Monday 23 May 2011

Three Things

'That recovery, the first day at Weatherend, had served its purpose well, had given them quite enough; so that they were, to Marcher's sense, no longer hovering about the head-waters of their stream, but had felt their boat pushed sharply off and down the current. They were literally afloat together...'
Yes, 'literally' - and yes, that's the unmistakable prose of Henry James (in The Beast in the Jungle). If even The Master, the most fastidious of prose artists, was content, back in 1903, with this loose usage of 'literally', perhaps the rest of us should just get used to it. And it's not only Henry James...

'I have finished another book, only a short one and not quite a novel, and we are now looking for a really good jacket design. I always used to have Old Masters of some kind on the cover but the sales department say that they are now hopelessly out of date.'
That's Penelope Fitzgerald, writing to her friend Maryllis Conder in 1994. The book - 'not quite a novel' - she so casually refers to is her masterpiece, the utterly extraordinary The Blue Flower, a novel like no other. One of the joys of reading Fitzgerald's letters is her disarming modesty, her complete lack of writerly affectations. Perhaps it was because she found literary success so late in life - or, more likely, such modesty was deep in her nature. If only today's writers had a little more of it.

'Among nets
some are stout
and cast by
sailors who
venture out
in boats and
talk of knots
and floats and
diesel and
gruesome accidents
to decent people.
Whereas the
nets approached
by birds and moths
and set by
Nabokovs in white
are lighter stuff
tied by threads
to branches
as though for sport...'

That's Kay Ryan (unmistakably), in a poem called The Catch, and that is surely Vladimir Nabokov's only appearance as a plural generic noun. It is also the most gloriously unlikely rhyme ever made with 'moths'. Has any other (single) writer's name been used in the plural? I can't think of a case...

1 comment:

  1. As a writer I celebrate the fact that Kay Ryan is finally getting some of the attention she deserves. I'm sure Nabokov too would be pleased!