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F. Scott Fitzgerald: A wondrous prosateur

In the roaring 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda were for a time the golden couple of New York’s high society. Twenty years later, Fitzgerald was dead from a second heart attack while Zelda was in and out of mental institutions where she eventually died in a fire in 1948. Their slow but steady descent toward ruin was documented – as skilfully dramatised fiction – in several of Fitzgerald’s books all of which have recently been published in lavish paperbacks by Alma Classics. The Beautiful and the Damned (1920) was the first of Fitzgerald’s works to include a fictionalised portrait of Zelda as the volatile beauty Gloria Patch, wife to Fitzgerald’s Anthony Patch, a louche and sybaritic heir apparent. The story of man’s obsession with power, money and love was retold again and for the final time in Fitzgerald’s last completed work, Tender Is the Night (1934). The book relays the tale of Dick and Nicole Driver, their tempestuous marriage and gradual undoing. Fitzgerald was one of the most autobiographical and luculent writers with a wondrous binary proficiency to tell a story of a man and his times. A quality so rare yet organic his one-time friend Ernest Hemingway said it was “as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings”. Indeed, one cannot help but agree with Hemingway for there is something spellbinding about Fitzgerald’s prose; its decadence, its verisimilitude, its fatalism, which captured the dazzling milieu of the Jazz Age with masterly foresight and vision.

Unfortunately, Fitzgerald’s life paralleled the trajectory of his generation. It boomed in the hedonistic 20s – defined by a wave of liberated women and bootleg booze – and floundered with the advent of the Great Crash when both he and Zelda buckled under the pressures of excess and financial profligacy. Fitzgerald’s fiction echoed the national mood, his insight and personal experience formed the basis of all his work, reflecting the glamour and the strain of living the American Dream. Their story, an embodiment of the triumph and tragedy that afflicted their decade, began in 1918 when Fitzgerald was stationed at Camp Sheridan, Alabama, where he met 18 year old Zelda Sayre, youngest daughter of a wealthy Alabama Supreme Court judge. The couple quickly became engaged but due to Fitzgerald’s lowly financial prospects Zelda broke it off in 1919. In that same year, Fitzgerald began work on his first novel This Side of Paradise, the early prototype which was to set the precedent for all his later works. The book tells the story of a “sophisticated and quite charming – but delicate” young man by the name of Amory Blaine, his professional aspirations and romantic travails. While working on it, Fitzgerald also began a career as a prosateur for mass-circulation magazines. His moneymaking prospects were further improved by the publication of This Side of Paradise on 26th March 1920, which made the 24 year old Fitzgerald an overnight success. A mere week later, he and Zelda were married and swung full-force into a bustling life of parties, power-play and intrigue.

The realisation of Fitzgerald’s plan to get the girl, however, came at a price, which engendered in him “an abiding distrust” and “an animosity, towards the leisure class”. This enmity echoes stridently in all his works, particularly in the young, handsome and ostensibly successful male protagonists (Anthony Patch, Dick Driver) riddled with a financial and social sense of inferiority, which manifests itself most notably in relation to other mostly female characters. Zelda’s penchant for throwing Gatsbyesque parties, champagne and mink meant the couple were almost always broke, despite Fitzgerald writing profusely in between novels. But neither this nor the questionable start to their affinal life stopped the couple from creating their carefully crafted yet seemingly carefree public personas, which contributed greatly to their overall mythmaking. Both Zelda and Fitzgerald were highly conscious of their media image and kept scrapbooks of press cuttings detailing their professional and personal exploits. Almost from the start, following the success of This Side of Paradise the couple began their courtship with the national press, which they monopolised to up their popular appeal and keep their star ever present in the nation’s imagination. The Fitzgeralds were often featured in newspaper gossip columns as the happily married power-couple having a riotous time in their 27 bedroom mansion. In truth, by the early 1930s Fitzgerald was increasingly turning to alcohol to placate his personal insecurities while Zelda’s ditzy-Southern-belle act had become trite and taxing. The gradual collapse of their marriage and the emotional upheaval that preceded and followed is probably most discernible in Tender Is the Night, which seems to be one of Fitzgerald’s most divisive works. Praised for its literary prowess but condemned for its ostentatious show of overindulgence at the time of austerity and ration it received highly mixed reviews.

The book was conceived and written during a particularly grim period in Fitzgerald’s life, around Zelda’s breakdown and hospitalisation for schizophrenia in 1932. Dick and Nicole Diver were reportedly modelled on Fitzgeralds’ friends on the French Riviera, Gerald and Sara Murphy, yet the fictional couple’s marriage and all its elements – alcoholism, mental illness, a mounting emotional chasm and separation – seem more closely allied to that of the Fitzgeralds. At one point in the novel writing of Dick, Fitzgerald notes that he “had the power of arousing a fascinated and uncritical love” which he always returned with “carnivals of affection” yet upon which he looked back “as a general might gaze upon a massacre he had ordered to satisfy an impersonal blood lust”. Fitzgerald writes of love here with exsanguinating fatalism and with an intimacy of knowledge which can only be forged through familiarity, through lived experience. The same acutely autobiographical aesthetic runs through The Beautiful and the Damned, which explores the dissolution of another couple, Anthony and Gloria Patch. Speaking of the fictional wife, also stricken with schizophrenia, Fitzgerald seems to be describing his own, a beautiful but merciless party girl who rebels with “incessant guerrilla warfare” against “organised dullness” . Zelda like Gloria was notorious for her contumacious behaviour such as riding on top of taxis, dancing on kitchen tables at the Waldorf and greeting guest from her bathtub.

There is a sad irony to their story, a story which Fitzgerald spent almost two decades writing about. He must have prevised the tragic end before it approached but if so he did nothing to stop it perhaps because by that point he was no longer able to distinguish between his life and his fiction, speaking of which he once confessed: “Sometimes I don’t know whether Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels.” And yet before the blurring of the line and their subsequent troubles, their story was one of intense if deeply flawed love, which provided Fitzgerald with the necessary material for his greatest works. Writing of their relationship in response to criticism from Hemingway and other contemporariesFitzgerald retorted: “I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity and her flaming self-respect and it’s these things I’d believe in even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all that she should be…I love her and that’s the beginning and the end of it.” For her part, Zelda’s grandiose shows of affection and her devotion to him never wavered even if her loyalty did. There is little doubt that theirs was a passionate and enduring love, just as there is little doubt that their abject ends were precipitated by mutual proclivity for self-destruction, drinking and artistic rivalry. The capping crisis of their marriage was offset by Zelda’s novel Save Me the Waltz (1932), which used exactly the same autobiographical material as Fitzgerald was incorporating into Tender is the Night. Outraged by Zelda’s audacity Fitzgerald wrote to his publisher Max Perkins forbidding publication. Eventually, however, after stipulating a number of changes and cuts he allowed it to go ahead, which it did two years before his own complete final book. The great romance of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald has been dissected, disputed and debated many times over, with blame shifted onto one and the other, but perhaps in the end they were just two people in love who sadly couldn’t live either apart or together.

Publisher: Alma Classics 
Publication Date: September 2012
Paperback: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781847492593


David Stephen Calonne: A biographer of skill, humour and insight

“There is absolutely no plan to it,” Charles Bukowski once claimed speaking about the process of writing, “it’s just me, the typewriter and the chair”. In reality, this was not strictly true says David Stephen Calonne in his new critical study. “Writing was for him,” explains Calonne, “a kind of ritual accompanied by four necessary accessories; alcohol, classical music, the sound of the typewriter, tobacco.” Toward the end of Bukowski’s life the list was extended by the addition of cats – the “smart/spontaneous, self-/absorbed, naturally poised and awesomely/beautiful” creatures – who not only lay at his feet while he wrote but also often made into the writing. They teach us humans, Bukowski observed in a poem called Exactly Right, a “grand lesson in persevering”. A worthy lesson indeed but one Bukowski didn’t need tutelage-in having spent years at his typewriter trying to make it. And when he did finally make it, he made it all the way to the prestigious Huntington Library in San Marino, California, where his literary archive is now kept alongside William Shakespeare, Galileo, Geoffrey Chaucer, Langston Hughes, Jack London et al. “To many it is a matter of some pleasurable amusement,” says Calonne at the end of the book, “that Bukowski’s literary legacy is now housed in this cathedral of culture which is located not far from his own preferred temple – the San Anita race track where he spent so many happy days and evenings.” This would no doubt be a source of some amusement to Bukowski himself, who has also recently made it to the literary (web) pages of The Daily Telegraph.

In this slight but expansive 170-odd page book Calonne covers every aspect and angle of Bukowski’s life, from his childhood to his old age, from his friendships to his relationships, from his work to his leisure,  providing a wonderfully complete overview of this enigmatic barroom-bard whose life, at least in theory, seems full of contradictions. Bukowski wanted literary success but hated fame; was brutish but frangible, forthright but guarded, sensitive but apodictically chauvinistic. And yet, toward the end when age had finally bestowed its wisdom and the bravado had dissipated somewhat, Bukowski unclenched revealing his “tender emotional nakedness,” which began to mark his work. To illustrate this ostensible shift Calonne quotes from Bluebird, a poem which very clearly bridges the gap between Bukowski’s “outer image and his wounded heart”. It is all there in the artless sincerity, when Bukowski says: “there’s a bluebird in my heart that/wants to get out/but I’m too tough for him/I say, stay in there, I’m not going/to let anybody see/you.” But – perhaps faced with his own mortality – Bukowski knew that he had to let us see him, this bluebird, which he had kept hidden for so long. Subsequently, his late style was defined by an “increased attention to death, to his literary heroes, to his cats, to a new metaphysical, stripped-down and often tender lyricism”. Calonne also notes that during this particular time Bukowski kept heed of world news and current affairs, commemorating events such as the 1992 LA riots in his work.

Never a political writer, however, Bukowski preferred to concentrate on what he knew best, drinking, women, the racetrack, love. In one of his two essays on poetry, Basic Training, he says he always endeavoured to hurl himself towards his “personal god: SIMPLICITY”. But it was sheer determinism that proved to be the sulphur in his blood, the superhuman resilience to incalculable personal and professional rejections. Bukowski would often say that it was, in fact, his father who made him a writer because he first became interested in literature as a means of escape from the harrowing reality of his early domestic life. “His literary style was forged in the crucible of his youthful anguish,” writes Calonne, “as he would learn to handle words as if they were fists, pounding back at the injustices he had endured.” This bravura would eventually evolve into “his characteristic sarcasm, tough guy persona and his combination of courtly style with rough house antics”. Calonne adds that Bukowski’s way of coping was by “rebelling, revolting against everything, with a bit of charming humour thrown into the mix.” Again, this would become a defining trait, running through his uberous canon, adding to it a touch of impertinence and wisecracking which is distinctly his own.

Bukowski started out with poetry, short fiction, essays and reviews but by the 1970s his champion and friend John Martin suggested he tackle a novel. “Bukowski took immediate action,” writes Calonne, “he sat before his typewriter each evening precisely at the time he used to begin work at the Post Office: 6:18”. A mere 19 days later he had finished a book, which was published on 8th February 1971. Post Office has been translated into over 15 languages and remains one of Bukowski’s most popular works. This is partly because it has wide-ranging themes, depicting everyday working class life in a distinctively “scatological, sexual and colloquial style,” which Bukowski fashioned after one of his literary heroes, Louis-Ferdinand Céline. It is also a work that clearly sprung from the vantage point of experience. “The book telescopes various periods of Bukowski’s life,” Calonne explains, “returning to the early 1950s, when he worked as a mail carrier; snarling dogs, sexual encounters with lonely women; the struggle to memorise postal codes.” It is not entirely clear, the biographer suggests, whether Martin approached Bukowski to write full time or vice versa but the leap toward a literary career came just at the right time as Bukowski’s absenteeism from work and association with underground newspapers had not gone unnoticed by his employers at the Post Office. In many respects, Bukowski’s writing was more auspicious or at least more constant than his personal life. Here too, Calonne has every angle covered, chronicling his subject’s romantic inconcinnities with objective sympathy.

Calonne’s book is meticulously researched and assembled from select excerpts of Bukowski’s saporous letters, poems, novels and other elements of autobiography he left behind. The biographer has extensive knowledge of his subject and beyond, which he uses to construct multiple interpretative frameworks to present Bukowski’s work, his dualistic German/American identity and his place in today’s literary landscape. Unrefined, voluble and ventripotent, with  “beer-maddened” breath, coarse canescent hair, speck-brown eyes and a face like a cribriform plate, due to severe adolescent acne, Bukowski was never a typical man of letters. But by his fortieth year, says Calonne, he “had found his genius and marked out his literary territory,” and thus “the terror of existence” became him subject Literature for Bukowski was always directly related to “his own experience of living” and in a way it led to his innovative and idiosyncratic style. “It is a miswriting of literary history, for example,” says Calonne, “that the ‘Confessional poets’ –  Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Anne Sexton – are given sole credit for the invention of a new mode of self-revelation, which dealt with the most intimate, hidden and painful aspect of the psyche, when actually Bukowski was doing this form the outset.” Calonne is clearly passionate about his subject and it shows as the book comes wonderfully together to illustrate a man’s life through the biographer’s lens of skill, humour and insight.

Publisher: Reaktion Books 
Publication Date: August 2012
Paperback: 224 pages, 30 illustrations
ISBN: 9781780230238

Seminal Lines

Two walking cobwebs, almost bodiless,
crossed paths here once, kept house, and lay in beds.
Your fingertips once touched my fingertips
and set us tingling through a thousand threads.
Poor pulsing Fete Champetre! The summer slips
between our fingers into nothingness.

We too lean forward, as the heat waves roll
over our bodies, grown insensible,
ready to dwindle off into the soul,
two motes or eye flaws, the invisible…
Hope of the hopeless launched and cast adrift
on the great flaw that gives the final gift.

Dear Figure curving like a question mark,
how will you hear my answer in the dark?

The Flaw — Robert Lowell

Jonathan Meades: An indefatigable deipnosophist and a polyhistor

“There is no such thing as a boring place,” says Jonathan Meades. And let’s face it, he should know having spent a lifetime “writing about it in different media and in different ways: polemically, analytically, essayistically, fictively”. Place, albeit not exclusively or singularly, is also the subject of his new collection, Museum Without Walls. The sturdy hardback – boasting 54 prose pieces and six film scripts – delivers some genuinely droll and outré views and ideas, all backed up by an astonishing wealth of knowledge. Meades is an indefatigable deipnosophist and a polyhistor, who often veers off course to fascinating ends. Writing about architecture, for example, in Hamas & Kibbutz he deviates from the topic at hand to the subject of football, pondering: “If it is a national game how come we always lose?” He writes more amusingly, however, about one of the game’s biggest stars, saying: “A buzzard is an avian analogue of the even squeakier David Beckham,” who will “always be a wrong voice, a treble in a tenor’s body. That for me is his defining characteristic. He is to be filed, ultimately, alongside Alan Ball and Emlyn Hughes in the Sportsmen Posing As Castrati category”. Yet jocund badinage aside, Meades really knows his stuff from seventeenth century literary dicta to the ineptitude of an untutored architect, from the demerits of the Theory of the Value of Ruins to the capital’s imperfect traffic and transport systems. Meades is a redoubtable social critic and nouveau historian with an intrepidly facetious streak, humorous and clever without being glib.

Much of Museum Without Walls is dedicated to Meades’ monomania, which he has spent 30 years cultivating in numerous television programmes, books and journalism features. Here, in this collection, are some of his most interesting texts pertaining to London and its monuments, both the memorable and the unremarkable. “Of London’s major set pieces,” writes Meades, “St Paul’s Cathedral is the most distinguished, though not, I suspect, the most loved: it is too stately, aloof and worldly to excite the sort of affection granted to such exercises in quaintness as Big Ben and Tower Bridge”.  Further in the collection Meades ruminates over the subject again, praising St Paul’s for its “swagger and urbanity and temporal grace,” which stands at odds with its function as a church, “a monument to unreason…a musty repository of ancient mysteries and incomprehensible superstitions” and the residence of “the fearsome, jealous, tyrannical wrath-monger called god”. Meades continues his deadpan fulmination against the numinous deity in the brilliantly irreverent Absentee Landlord. God is “an absurdity whose existence it is absurd to deny,” he says, “because God is omnipresent, God is in believers’ minds or souls or hearts or wherever it is they know he is”. In fact, he is a “fantastically successful invention.” And if an idea ever had legs Meades muses, “this one has run and run and is still full of puff”. 

Next, he tackles the church. The Church of England to be precise or rather “the Church of Convenience,” as he calls it, “founded to sanction a king’s polygamous lubricity and his Bluebeard appetites”. Speaking from an architectural point of view, however, he avers that churches as buildings cannot be denied. Most of these putatively sacred structures are lumped together as Gothic, because they predominantly are and have been since the Middle Ages. “The Gothic is an agent of de-secularisation, it is an architectural means of achieving sacredness,” Meades explains, “it made schools, law courts and railway stations into quasi-religious building which were thus invested with added authority: we thanked God for selective education, for the wisdom of judges, for making the trains run on time.” Interestingly, Meades goes on to note that “Atheism, unlike Christianity, possesses no architectural type or decorative style which is peculiar to it.” And yet he daydreams here a little, saying: “Still, had atheists built they could have built at no more propitious a moment than during the middle years of this century, when nearly all architecture had broken with western Christian precedent, when architecture was so ideologically determined that it was itself a cult or religion.” Sadly this is no longer the case, as Meades laments in Postmodernism to Ghost-Modernism because modern British architecture died when Margaret Thatcher assumed power in 1979 and thus dismantled the “economic and cultural apparatus that had supported it”.

And, it only got worse under the tenure of Tony Blair, “the most bellicose prime minister of the last 150 years”. There is something of the Uriah Heep that Blair’s “corrupt regime” has banqueted to Britain, says Meades. But what he really takes objection to are the “block upon block of luxury flats” despoiling different cityscapes across the country. In On the Bandwagon talking of Blair’s government, Meades says that the decade-long rule “will be recalled as much by its architecture as by its low dishonesty”. But the architectural legacy is Meades’ primary concern, so much so that he has coined a neologism for the particular type of structure associated with New Labour. A sightbite, the analogous equivalent of a soundbite, is “characterised by its hollow vacuity, by its sculptural sensationalism, by its happy quasi-modernism, by its lack of actual utility”.  These “dangerously vapid” buildings found mostly in municipalities undergoing regeneration, from London’s Docklands to Cardiff Bay, are fully representative of the government who authorised them. A government this particular auteur takes to task where others have not dared. Meades’ spellbinding enthusiasm, his acuity and his crafty prose in writing about social, political and religious issues – which he contemplates with wit, deft and gravity, depending on the exact nature of the topic – are surpassed only by his uncompromising candour.

This candour also extends to his life, his childhood and formative years, references and anecdotes of which punctuate the collection.  Occasionally, these sketches are plaintively nostalgic as those, for example, in Fatherland, where Meades remembers places associated with his father, which he says “coalesce into a memento mori whether I like it or not”.  Thus places, like certain smells and sounds, are able to solicit small and inconsequential but also exigent and momentous reminiscences and are therefore an integral element of our emotional life. A great number of these places for Meades are – in a very quintessentially English way – pubs, or more precisely their parking lots, where he whiled away the hours eating crisps and imbibing fizzy lemonade, waiting for the grown-ups. “I spent the 1950s in pub car parks,” he confesses, “in summer I kicked gravel, walked perilously on the wall tops, scaled trees. In winter which is what it usually was I sat in my father’s car watching my breath condense, mining driving, scrutinising the underside of Issigonis’s dashboards, reading maps”. Here like elsewhere in the collection Meades pays tribute to his father, a biscuit salesman with whom he travelled from town to town, taking-in the beautiful, the grotesque and the commonplace which, in his own words, grew to seem extraordinary. Unbeknown to young Meades at the time his edacious interest in his surroundings would not only develop into a lifelong fascination but also into a brilliant career, both in print and in television. The six scripts gathered here give unprecedented insight into the filmmaker’s pedantic precision and attention to detail. Surprisingly – surprisingly because Meades’ television programmes appear so wonderfully spontaneous – every nuance and scene, every screen-shot and take is meticulously scripted, attesting to Meades’ proficient showmanship.  Just as Museum Without Walls attests to his talents as a writer with an exciting and varied body of work of which one hopes there is much more to come.

Publisher: Unbound
Publication Date: September 2012
Hardback: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781908717184

Writers On Writers

“We cannot help but see Socrates as the turning-point, the vortex of world history.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“Mayakovsky impregnated poetry in such a way that almost all the poetry has continued being Mayakovskian.”
Pablo Neruda

“I wouldn’t like to do what Elizabeth Bowen once told me she did—write something every day, whether I was working on a book or not.”
Angus Wilson

“Vladimir Nabokov, and I languidly English the name, takes up a good five feet of my library. “
Martin Amis

“Flann O’Brien is unquestionably a major author.”
Anthony Burgess

“Between thirteen and sixteen are the ideal if not the only ages for succumbing to Thomas Wolfe—he seemed to me a great genius then, and still does, though I can’t read a line of it now.”
Truman Capote

“As far as I’m consciously aware, I forget everything I read at once, including my own stuff. But I have a tremendous admiration for Céline.”
Henry Green

“It may really be said: You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all.”
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

“Kingsley Amis and I used to exchange unpublished poems, largely because we never thought they could be published, I suppose.”
Philip Larkin

“Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction.”
Vladimir Nabokov

Sources: Wikipedia, Brainy Quote, The Paris Review  

Peter Ackroyd: The temperate biographer

The Victorians were a peculiar lot and no one more so than Wilkie Collins. His globular head was too large for his frame, his legs a little too short, he liked to ride the omnibus, chronically complained of nervous maladies, always wore a “florid fur coat,” and a “rakishly tied Belcher scarf,” bickered with waiters over pourboires and disparaged what he called “the claptrap morality of the 19th century”. The latter is, perhaps, what distinguishes him most from his contemporaries as Peter Ackroyd points out in his biography of this most “sweetest tempered of all the Victorian novelists”. A progenitor of the “popular novel” Collins left a large and varied fictional output, upon which Ackroyd draws in order to show how the writer’s life is inexorably intertwined with his work. This line of narrative is both potentially lucrative and illuminating yet in this case derogated by the biographer’s deadpan reportage style. Collins’ most intimate relationships, apart from that with Charles Dickens, are largely unexplored and given little sustained appraisal. Certainly, his family and women make an appearance, but Dickens is almost always at the fore of the page whether he is lamenting Collins’ choice of mistress, his slatternly comportment or offering grudging praise.

For a while Collins was Dickens’ preferred companion, with the two men often socialising, holidaying and collaborating together. But by the end of Dickens’ life, Collins was so disenchanted with his former mentor he politely declined to attend his funeral. The cause of the fissures in their relationship is unknown or at least undocumented here. Yet once bound together by success, a mutually assiduous work ethic and a somewhat questionable reputation, the two men eventually parted ways. Ackroyd deliberates on this fact by stipulating that Collins may have taken offense to Dickens’ professional haughtiness, but one cannot be sure. What is well documented, however, is that Dickens once speaking of his friend in a literary capacity said: “Collins was a master of plot rather than of character.” Ackroyd elaborates further suggesting Collins was “an adult in craft and an adolescent in sentiment”.  But if so a rather rebellious one, who wrote about the breaking down of class barriers, the inequality of marriage laws and women who defied 19th century stereotypes. Collins was intent upon “exploring the female sensibility in ways foreign to other Victorian novelists, and he created heroines quite unlike those of his male contemporaries”. Something else he was largely unsurpassed in were his plots, the “perfectly calibrated mechanisms,” which both fascinated and beleaguered readers as they periodically agonized to find out what happens next.

Ackroyd’s work, unlike that of his subject, lacks precisely this quality. And, for all the book’s outward elegance and promise, its success is stymied by the narrative’s perfunctory haste and the dearth of dramatic action and climax. This is made particularly conspicuous because Collins’ highly-wrought personal life contained incident and intrigue in abundance. As an expert of clandestine relationships and cloaked identities in his work, he covered his own tracks with equal skill. Collins had two illegitimate lifelong affairs, with women he refused to marry, once describing the institution as a “ridiculous dilemma”. His maverick views made their way into every one of his books, which contain cogent and sustained repudiations of the status quo. And this is where Ackroyd thrives, in his devotion to show parallels between Collins’ life and his work as he points out that Basil, for example, “alludes to an unhappy love affair” based on Collins’ own reminiscences; The Woman in White is set in Hampstead Green where the young writer and his family lived in 1826; and Hide and Seek depicts the cheap delights of a town “suffused with glitter and gas…the chop-houses, the gin shops, the cookshops, the burlesque shows” which Collins knew quite intimately. Ackroyd excels at joining up the dots to show a comprehensive picture of how Collins’ life enriched his work, but fails to make it as extraordinary or as interesting as it really was.

Speaking of himself Collins once said that he was “averse to respectability in all its forms”. This was at great variance with the character of his father, the minor painter William Collins, who was said to be “the epitome of respectability and propriety”. His liberated attitude then had to have come from his mother, Harriet Geddes, who was a “woman of remarkable mental culture”. The writer did, however, like his father, “possess a painter’s eye” which, as Ackroyd points out, he later used in writing books that came to “resemble a series of pictures rather than a sequence of scenes” demonstrating great “sympathy between character and landscape”. Not only that, Collins had a knack for elaborate and ingenious story lines, which kept the public “reading, reading, reading”. In doing so, he established a new precedent, which saw the first edition of The Woman in White sell-out on publication day, quickly prompting merchandise lines and nation-wide fan clubs. It is now rather strange to think that the “novelist who invented sensation” was originally “consigned to a career in commerce,” stranger yet, that this once much loved and much admired writer is now seldom remembered.

There was a time when Collins was said to have had “the brightest future” of all his contemporaries, and yet today his legacy occupies a marginal place in English letters. Ackroyd’s biography doesn’t attempt to explain why that is, or why this fine writer, whose work was once  a “spring of the English detective mystery,” has been largely reduced to a second-rate scribe. Ackroyd does, however, suggests to the contrary saying Collins is “still a living presence in English literature,” which is debatable at best, even if his works remain “powerful and ingenious, striking and persuasive”.  William Wilkie Collins was born on 8th January 1834 in Marlybone, London. Soon after, the family moved to Hampstead Green and was enlarged by the arrival of Wilkie’s younger brother, Charles Allston Collins. By his own account, Collins’ childhood was unexceptional if  happy. Collins took to travelling around Europe from an early age, where he received much of his informal education through experiences “quite different from that of middle-class England”. Stimulated and transformed by these experiences he transferred them onto paper and “delighted in violating Victorian convention”. Sadly, one would never guess from the temperate biographical account on offer.

Guy de Maupassant: A brilliant and delicate psychologist

There is a category of writers whose brilliant careers were tragically cut short by death. Guy de Maupassant is one of them. Maupassant died at the age of 42 in a mental asylum in Paris, following a second suicide attempt. It is thought that his gradual decent into madness was caused by syphilis, which the writer contracted in the 1870s. Maupassant believed he was infected with the “Neapolitan evil” at the age of 20 by a ravishing “female boating companion”. But it may have been any one of the prostitutes he used to frequent on a regular basis. Today, he is largely remembered for his mellifluent but methodically plotted short stories, which set the precedent for the genre even before his death. But Maupassant has also written several excellent novels, one of which has recently been reissued by Penguin to coincide with a new film adaptation. Bel-Ami is a book of genuine intrigue, which follows the life of a charming but unscrupulous young man, Georges Duroy, and his quest for “greatness and success, fame, wealth and love”. A protégé of Gustave Flaubert, Maupassant was always actively encouraged by his master to pursue a literary career as someone who had been “born to write”. Spurred by Flaubert, the young writer developed a lifelong habit of perpetually making notes and conscientiously observing his surroundings, which later provided invaluable material for his work. Whenever asked about his revenant-like, taciturn, disposition Maupassant would simply say: “I am learning my trade.” And learn he did.

In Bel-Ami, his second novel, Maupassant explores the dynamics of urban society through its relationship with politics and the press, power and sex, subjects integral both to the fates of the book’s characters and its  social climate. Written in the 1880s, the book records the social milieu of bourgeois capitalism under La Troisième République, mirroring the reality of its day. Before gaining acclaim and commercial success, Maupassant worked for the Ministry of Public Instruction, which he left after the publication of his first collection of short stories. In the 10-year period before his death, Maupassant produced 300 stories, six novels, three plays, a few travel books and some poetry. But towards the end of his life, his sedulous work ethic was stifled by his illness, as he recorded in a letter from Cannes. “There are whole days on which I feel I am done for,” he wrote,  “finished, blind, my brain used up and yet still alive…I have not a single idea that is consecutive to the one before it. I forget words, names of everything and my hallucination and my pains tear me to pieces.” This writer of immense proficiency and finesse suffered greatly before the “darkness” consumed him. But he also managed to leave behind a literary canon of considerable bulk and scope.

Like Duroy, Maupassant was born in a provincial town and sought to make his name in Paris; and like his fictional counterpart, he had a soft-spot for the ladies, who, as Duroy is told by his old comrade Forestier, are “still the quickest way to succeed”. Bel-Ami is a book that deals with both philogyny and misogyny, liberated women and old-fashioned men, with equally as old-fashioned views toward them. Georges Duroy is a soldier who has returned to Paris after two years in Algeria. Broke and down on his luck he inadvertently meets the “smiling, earnest and attentive” Forestier, now the editor of a daily newspaper named La Vie française – the sort that steers its “course through the waters of high finance and low politics”.  His friend lends him money, sets him up with a job at the paper and introduces Duroy to a number of influential Parisian dignitaries. Yet despite his sudden turn of luck, Duroy feels lowly and humiliated about being “excluded from high society, having no connections where he would be accepted as an equal and being unable to frequent women on terms of intimacy”. The subject of romantic female companionship is a preoccupation that Duroy contemplates continuously, albeit most often in a superficial way. He is frequently seized by a “passionate longing to find love”, but this longing rests upon the condition that in return he should be loved exclusively by “a woman of refinement and distinction”. This plays into his very male idea –one which is endorsed throughout the book by various male characters – of furthering his social position by associating with women of a certain calibre, and so Duroy begins his quest for just such a female companion.

Although immediately bewitched by the “charmingly demure” Mrs Forestier, Duroy postpones pursuing his friend’s wife and instead goes after the “deliberately provocative” Madam de Marelle, who although also married puts up no resistance. The two rent a love-nest and spend their time making “excursions to the dubious haunts where the great unwashed go to amuse themselves”. The romance, however, soon dwindles, while Duroy’s professional life takes an upturn as Forestier’s ailing health paves the way for a promotion to the ranks of editor. Eventually, Forestier dies and Duroy wastes no time proposing to his friend’s widow. Mrs Forestier agrees upon the stipulation that she remain uninhibited to do as she please – in fact she insists “on being free, completely free to act as I see fit, go where I please, see whom I choose, whatever I wish. I could never accept any authority or jealousy or questioning of my conduct.” A bold proposition, but one Duroy accepts. What follows are several affairs, several more moves up the career ladder, divorce, scandal, another marriage and a realisation on Duroy’s behalf that there will always be another “young, good looking, intelligent” and ambitious schemer to take his place. Although the realisation is passing, Duroy will no doubt get his comeuppance in the end. Or so, at least, one hopes.

Maupassant is a writer who refrains from moralising, neither siding with nor objecting to his characters, but rather taking an altogether neutral stance. But the moral of the story is clear and perhaps best summed up in the following excerpt when talking to Duroy an elderly gentleman says: “Life is a slope. As long as you’re going up you’re looking towards the top and you feel happy; but when you reach it, suddenly you can see the road going downhill and death at the end of it all. It’s slow going up but quick going down,” especially when one is alone. And loneliness is where most of the characters in Bel-Ami are headed. This bears an uncanny similarity to Maupassant’s own abject end, which he met solitarily despite having been famous, loved, popular and revered. Bel-Ami contains several other elements from Maupassant’s life, but more than that it showcases his deep and intuitive understanding of the workings of the human psyche. No wonder then, perhaps, that Friedrich Nietzsche declared him to be a brilliant and delicate psychologist. Maupassant himself once seconded this notion saying that a good writer should aim to show true human nature in his work, the unexceptional and the everyday of people’s lives and their characters, “their feelings and passions… how people love or hate each other, how they fight each other…how they make up” – essentially, how they live. And in this Maupassant succeeds, for there is life reverberating through every page of this sprightly and compelling tale.

Publisher: Penguin Classics 
Publication Date: August 1975
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 9780140443158

Samuel Beckett: Between two parting dreams, knowing none

Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing would be better renamed Good for Nothing, if only for the sake of accuracy. Harsh, I know, but perhaps wholly necessary. The book is a peculiar and idiosyncratic one, whimsical, opaque, self-indulgent, confused and confusing yet on occasion exoteric but unassimilable. Originally written in French between 1947-52, it was later translated into English by Beckett himself.Thus one can’t help but wonder how much was lost in the process and how much of the abject “quarto” about the essence of being, perception and will, was meant to be as abstruse as it appears. There is little continuity or narrative structure, but in a most ambiguous way. One assumes that the “I” speaking throughout the 13 monologue pieces is the unnamed narrator’s subconscious but this is just an arbitrary guess, as too often the text falls victim to unwitting sabotage by way of structural and stylistic subversion.

The book opens with the narrator debating the point of existence while dwelling somewhere on a “hill, so wild, so wild.” “What possessed you to come?” he asks himself. This we learn is “unanswerable,” but it may have been due to“fate”. The thought continues as he begins to query time, saying: “How long have I been here, what a strange question, I’ve often wondered, And often I could answer, an hour, a month, a year, depending on what I meant by here, and me, and being, and where I never went looking for extravagant meanings there never much varies, only the there sometimes seems to vary.” This mode of quiet and circuitous flatulence continues for some pages and to a rather soporific degree as Beckett endeavours to reduce existential problems to their most rudimentary structures: the meaning of life; the role of perception; time; communication versus alienation and the interminable perplexities of the self. The prose is spares but saponaceous and orbicular, as it ebbs indiscriminately forward and backward only to retrogress to the point of origin again. For the narrator is neither here nor there and yet he tells us otherwise. “I’m there, I am here”  he says, and then somewhere else altogether, “between two parting dreams, knowing none”.

This sort of literature has the tendency to incite a certain urge to perforate the book’s cover with the sharp-end of a bradawl, not only because it is consummately exasperating but also because its writer is consummately more talented. And while I do realise that there is some vestige of merit in Beckett’s experimental indictment against language as a mode of expression, I still can’t excuse his monotonous eructations about being “here or elsewhere, fixed or mobile, without form or oblong like man,” or overlook his abuse of lexicon when he assert that “the subject dies before it comes to the verb,” because “nothing ever as much as began, nothing ever but nothing and never nothing ever but lifeless words”. Most of Texts for Nothing is spumous mullock only legible in spurts, which makes it somewhat difficult to follow Beckett’s intention or even attempt to decipher it. This is also largely due to the fact that the book flits from internal monologue to commentary on the external, from the narrator expounding about what constitutes living (“getting standing, staying standing, stirring about, holding out, getting to tomorrow”) to questions about the structure of civilisation (“all the peoples of the earth would not suffice, at the end of the billions you’d need a god, unwitnessed witness of witnesses, what a blessing it’s all down a drain”). It is also further muddled when Beckett sporadically asserts that in fact “nothing can be told,” and then proceeds to tell it. But the “it” remains indeterminable.

Somewhere mid-way through the book the obscurantist literary agitprop about the futility of language begins to grate. Not only that, the abstraction and anesthetised prose makes it an offering of laborious pelmanism. The only redeeming quality about Texts for Nothing is the occasional sound of Beckett’s voice manumitting itself from the confines of this postmodernist quagmire. Singular moments capture Beckett discoursing rhetorically, when he says, for example, “But I speak softer, every year a little softer. Perhaps. Slower too, every year a little slower.” Or when he notes plaintively that it’s a pity “hope is dead.” But these are few and far in between, or at least too few to justify the read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that even Beckett can’t justify it as at one point he says resignedly: “I’m the clerk, I’m the scribe, of what cause I know not.” During the middle period of his life when Texts for Nothing was written Beckett was struggling to maximise creativity due to, among other things, an increasing sense of self-censure and criticism, and a torturous desire to find an apt method of expression for his thought. He aimed to discover a form of art which would allow for reality of disorder, the “pettiness of heart and mind,” which in the end led him to lament the challenges of language.

Texts for Nothing pays homage to those challenges, emerging as a sort of preliminary attempt at deconstructed literature prompted by the “dread of coming to the last, of having said all, your all, before the end”. Today, it also reads like a literary posture built upon an outmoded postmodernist premise. Much like Beckett’s plays, Texts for Nothing is an experimental book, which does not comply with any given literary convention, dismantling generic pointers between fact and fiction, prose and poetry, dream and reality. But I fear it dismantles too much thereby turning language into an entity, a character, in itself which makes for an obtuse and wearisome piece of writing, devoid of irony and energy and the subtle nuances of effulgent and multiple resonances at the crux of much of Beckett’s earlier work. There is a point in Texts for Nothing, when the narrator says, “I shouldn’t have began,” repeating it throughout the book, and every time I came across it I couldn’t help but think: I definitely second that.

Phil Baker: The skilful biographer

In his eponymous study of William S. Burroughs (published by Reaktion Books in their Critical Lives series) Phil Baker skilfully chronicles this most controversial and illustrious counterculture figure’s life from his boyhood in Show-Me-State St Louis, Missouri; through to his galliard years in Europe; his days as a junky on the streets of New York; his spell in Mexico City; his nomadic roving in Morocco and South America; to his senescence and eventual death in Kansas in 1997. Burroughs died a cult icon, a figure of worldwide acclaim with a status akin to that of a rock star. And almost two decades after his death, he still remains as fascinating as his auctorial prose, which shifted nebulous boundaries between fact and fiction. The fescennine nature of his work, and the attempts to censor it, has also generated considerable interest in the man himself. Chronicling the early years, Baker notes that Burroughs was almost exclusively attracted by the unorthodox and the occult. Excited by the sight of a maid smoking opiates young Burroughs said to himself: “I will smoke opium when I grow up.” True to his word he first tried drugs (chloral hydrate) while still at school. Burroughs didn’t like school, preferring to spend time on Market Street, “the skid row” of his adolescent youth.

Burroughs’ early experience of “tattoo parlours, novelty stores [and] hock shops” came to constitute the ambiance of much of his prose. But his chief impetus to write was actually literature. Baker notes that aged 13 Burroughs “encountered the book that was to have the greatest effect on his writing… the autobiography of a criminal, Jack Black’s 1925 You Can’t Win.” Speaking of it later, Burroughs remembered being “fascinated by this glimpse of an underworld of seedy rooming house, pool parlours, cat houses and opium dens.” Due to his idiosyncratic interests, Burroughs came to be viewed as an outsider and this sense of exclusion not only characterised his early life but also followed him when he went to Harvard in 1932 to study English Literature. Despite the odds firmly stacked against him, he received “a good education.” Baker explains: “He attended George Lyman Kittredge’s then famous Shakespeare lectures, learned a great deal of Shakespeare by heart, and took a course on Coleridge’s imagination with John Livingstone Lowes, author of the classis study The Road to Xandau.” He even “saw T.S Eliot give one of his Charles Eliot Norton lectures”. And yet despite complete immersion in academia, Burroughs felt compelled to explore the underground subculture of New York City, Harlem nightclubs and sex. Burroughs was unpopular at Harvard; he kept a ferret in his room and a “gun, against regulations” once narrowly escaping a lethal accident.

After leaving Harvard in 1936, Burroughs travelled to New York where he was introduced to Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Joan Vollmer. Burroughs and Vollmer became lovers in 1945 and were soon living together as common-law husband and wife. Joan was later famously a victim of one of Burroughs’ most notorious capers. “I guess it’s about time for out William Tell act,” Burroughs reportedly said to Vollmer after an evening out in Mexico City. “Joan was fairly drunk and she giggled as she balanced a glass on her head,” Baker writes, “Burroughs took aim at the top of the glass and fired, with the shocking sound of the gun indoors. A moment later the glass was one the floor but still unbroken…There was a small blue hole in Joan’s forehead, four or five centremetres to the left of the centre. Joan died on the way to the hospital. Burroughs was detained by the police and later sentenced to two years suspended, minus 13 days. According to Baker “Burroughs never stopped turning the event in his mind. He even thought of trying to write something about it but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He was afraid…not so much of finding the ‘unconscious intent’ but something altogether wider.” Burroughs recorded his own feelings in a journal, saying: “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I never should have become a writer but for Joan’s death. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control.”  This need was indeed evident both in his life and in his work. During this period Burroughs was travelling a lot, he “was changing. His politics were mellowing; he stopped using the word ‘Liberal’ as a term of abuse…His comic talents were sharpening.” Not only that, Burroughs was also experimenting with yage, a drug that made everything “writhe with a peculiar furtive life.” He later recalled that it was like “space-time travel,” something he had longed for but hadn’t previously found.

In 1953, Burroughs returned to Mexico City but unable to settle went back to St Louis and later to stay with Ginsberg in New York. The two became embroiled in a sexual relationship, which ended abruptly and saw Burroughs leave for Tangiers, a place where “fact merges into dream, and dreams erupt into real world.”  Burroughs was missing Ginsberg and in a letter to Kerouac wrote that “the withdrawal symptoms are worse than the Marker habit. One letter would fix me.” In absence of the epistolary panacea, Burroughs was getting fixed on Eucodol and a young Spaniard, who was to become his lover for the next several years. Quietly dissatisfied with his new life, lonely and sequestered, Burroughs felt old (now in his 40s) and just as alone as he had done in his teenage years. He saw himself move through the world “like a ghost” who would end up as a “crazy old bore somewhere in a bar”.  Burroughs’ addiction to Eucodol was also spiralling out of control. He was injecting every two hours and “could now spend eight hours staring at his shoe, periodically sticking a needle into his grey fibrous flesh.” These details of an addict’s lifestyle later made it into his work, which had come to a halt until he fled to London in 1956 to seek help. Clean, he went back to Tangiers and began writing, fuelled by inspiration that came like a “great black wind through the bones.”

Two years later, Burroughs followed Ginsberg and his new lover Peter Orlovsky to Paris. By February 1958, Burroughs was once again developing a drug habit by way of Codethyline. While in Paris, Ginsberg and Burroughs went on a pilgrimage to meet Louis-Ferdinand Céline and “walked straight into a Celine novel”. It was from him and his “style telegraphique” that the Beats “took their free use of dots” to capture the spoken word effect. Among other notables, Burroughs also met Jaques Stern, “a millionaire, French junky intellectual, crippled by polio” whose prose fragments were later inosculated with Burroughs’ cut-up prose most notably in The Soft Machine. Burroughs also became better acquainted with Brion Gysin, a “regally smooth artist” whom he first met in Tangiers. His interest in the “irrational occult” deepened due to Gysin, who replaced Ginsberg in Burroughs affections, and the new lover fortified for Burroughs the belief in “super-surreal consolidation of reality and dream.” The following year, Burroughs began to experience numinous visions and “paranormal occurrences were coming so thick and fast he could barely get them down on paper.” At one point he reportedly saw “his own hand turn completely inhuman, thick, black-pink, with white tendrils growing out where the fingertips had been.” He also took to crystal ball gazing and saw “flying saucers like flat fish full of black fuzz”. Burroughs was writing Naked Lunch and Ginsberg was trying to get it published, which he did. The work made Burroughs both famous and infamous. He later recalled seeing a review in which “they had a picture of me in a suit, saying ‘He has the appearance of a Protestant minister or a banker, but actually he’s very subversive, dedicated to subverting all decent values.” Oppugning rather than subverting, perhaps, but Burroughs’ prose is so multidimensional, so full of anacolutha and fragmentations that it is often susceptible to misinterpretation. Naked Lunch is hostile and brutish yet it is also a considered and intricate study of the human condition.

Not long after, Gysin came up with the cut up technique which “would dominate Burroughs’ work for the next decade.” By 1960, the cut up method produced two collaborative efforts. One between the key Beats, Minutes to God, and the other between Burroughs and Gysin called The Exterminator. Around this time Burroughs took to travelling again, and while in Paris met Samuel Beckett. Although interested in Burroughs, Beckett was less enthused about the cut-ups, remarking of the method: “That’s not writing, that’s merely plumbing.” He did, however, compliment Naked Lunch, telling Burroughs: “Our despair is total. Total! That’s what I felt in Naked Lunch and why I like it.” Later, Burroughs travelled to London where he became involved in barmecidal spiritualism and new mind-altering-substances, including pilocybin and DMT which resulted in grotesque visions of “green boys with purple fungoid gills” and “white ovens”. Burroughs was well received in Britain but his reputation and the sales of Naked Lunch were going agley in New York. By 1963, the book was deemed obscene by the courts due to too “many baboons” and insurrectionary ideas. It was perhaps Burroughs’ provocative lifestyle as well as prose – the drugs, the ostentatious degradation, contempt for convention and law – that many middle class Americans found an effrontery. As Baker says, Burroughs’ prose landscape was “an unmistakable place, with its penny arcades and vacant lots, China blue skies, 1920s movies, a smell of woodsmoke and piano music down a city street, train whistles, frayed light from a distant star, rose wallpaper and brass bedsteads, ginger haired boys with red gums, deformed fish snapping lazily at jissom on the surface of a black lagoon, and lesbian agents with penises grafted on to their faces, sitting outside a cafe in white trench coats, drinking spinal fluids from alabaster cups.” That was Burroughs and it was decidedly not America.

By 1966, after a stint in New York Burroughs was back in London. He was growing stranger and more paranoid as the decade went on, becoming increasingly superstitious and developing an interest in Scientology, which he later abandoned for politics. By 1968, Burroughs was metamorphosing into “a revolutionary thinker, dreaming up left-field guerrilla tactics for the overthrow of society.” He became more erratic during his public appearances talking about: killer whistles, camel endorphins as painkillers and the abandonment of one’s biological brain. Burroughs’ time in London was rather troubled and “he hated the licensing laws and the British class system.” For him, London was a grey city full of bad service. Depressed and largely alone except for an occasional “dilly boy,” Burroughs was visited by Ginsberg. Dismayed by the state of affairs, Ginsberg arranged a teaching post for him in New York City Collage and Burroughs left London in 1974. He found New York to be “one of the most polite cities” he had ever inhabited. While there, he met a young man called James Grauerholz. The two became lovers, but soon the affair dissipated and Grauerholz took on a role as Burroughs’ manager, using his experience of “organising rock gigs to give Burroughs a financially viable career in live performances.” By now in his 60s Burroughs was “becoming one of the world’s foremost celebrities, lionised by rock stars,” hanging out with the likes of Andy Warhol, Joe Strummer and Mick Jagger. But he was also surrounded by parasites and sycophants, and fed up with the lifestyle decided to move to Kansas in 1981.

With London, New York and Paris behind him Burroughs preoccupied himself with his interest in firearms and spent many an afternoon “blasting away at targets and refreshing himself with vodka and Coke.” His emotional coenaesthesis was finally dispelled by a new found love for animals, cats in particular. “Burroughs’ cats reminded him of people he had known,” writes Baker, “He felt them as autonomous, struggling, mortal beings, and he found again the sense of essential contact that he had always sought in relationships.” He even had a sticker on his front door in case of emergencies, alerting people that there were cats inside that must be saved. This paints a very different picture of “the sheep killing dog” and the “insane German philosopher in exile” that Burroughs was often portrayed as. Most of his later work revolved around his renewed interest in “occult style astral travel” and mystical devices, documented in Bodies of Light, Western Lands and Education: A Book of Dreams. Some thought the old man was going senile, but Baker says “many of Burroughs’ beliefs are easily paraphrased in psychic terms, but this doesn’t explain their cultural significance or why varieties of the same paranoia were central to the work of several American writers in the same era, including Hunter S Thompson, Thomas Pynchon and Philip K Dick.” Perhaps they were all onto something. In the last couple of decades, Burroughs remained en vogue, appearing on television and in film as “filth flder par excellence”. Highly cherished in his adopted home-town as a lovable “old gink” he trudged on into old age, wryly attributing his longevity to “healthy living.” He also said he no longer felt lonely or unloved because he had “his familiars,” his friends and his cats. So in the end the most unpopular boy from St Louis had actually found something he had been looking all his life, the “most natural painkiller what there is. LOVE.”

Seminal Lines

Don’t talk to me of love. I’ve had an earful
And I get tearful when I’ve downed a drink or two.
I’m one of your talking wounded.
I’m a hostage. I’m maroonded.
But I’m in Paris with you.

Yes I’m angry at the way I’ve been bamboozled
And resentful at the mess I’ve been through.
I admit I’m on the rebound
And I don’t care where are we bound.
I’m in Paris with you.

Do you mind if we do not go to the Louvre
If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,
If we skip the Champs Elysées
And remain here in this sleazy

Old hotel room
Doing this and that
To what and whom
Learning who you are,
Learning what I am.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris,
The little bit of Paris in our view.
There’s that crack across the ceiling
And the hotel walls are peeling
And I’m in Paris with you.

Don’t talk to me of love. Let’s talk of Paris.
I’m in Paris with the slightest thing you do.
I’m in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,
I’m in Paris with . . . all points south.
Am I embarrassing you?
I’m in Paris with you.

In Paris With You – James Fenton

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