Losing Literature

D. J. Enright, literary critic, novelist, poet, with a reticence comparable to Stevie Smith, is not literally insufferable. His reluctantly autobiographical commonplace books have dressed my bedside for some years, and with good temper and a mood for his lightly worn erudition, they offer diversion from insomnious thought-spreading. Mood is all important; on another occasion he’ll bring out my deep-shrouded Ajax, desirous to purge myself of his insufferable pride, his manner of finding yet another oblique way of emphasising his scholarship. Such is the nature of insomnia.

In Injury TimeĀ he tells the story of when fellow literary critic Frank Kermode moved house a few years before his death:

“[Kermode] had boxes of books, inscribed first editions and valuable manuscripts, ready for the removal men. The three workmen to whom he showed the boxes were Cambridge dustmen called in to make a special waste clearance. Thirty boxes had been consigned to the dustcart before the mistake was realised. The dustmen declined to climb into the cart, which contained a mechanical crusher.”

James Wood, literary critic, also often insufferable, tells the same story, adding that Kermode “was left with only his cheapest paperbacks, and his collection of literary theory.”

This came to mind recently as I accidentally gave away a book I learnt a few days later was very valuable. As its value was only pecuniary I was able to recover my equanimity remarkably quickly.

5 thoughts on “Losing Literature

    • It is quite awful, isn’t it? I chose the phrase “moved house a few years before his death” with the thought that this incident may have exacerbated his end. It would mine.

  1. Kermode’s tribulations are cringe worthy. I am also sorry to hear about the loss of one of your own valuable books.

    This reminds me of an article written by David Bentley Hart who had to liquidate (I think because of health/financial reasons) most of his 20K volume library: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/04/from-a-vanished-library

    And finally, I have to say that your bedside table is rather neat and lovely. Mine is a mess with different books!

  2. Hart is far too relaxed about the loss of what sounds like a library I’d have enjoyed very much. I share his love for Robert Louis Stevenson, and his wonder that he is not more highly prized in England. I also enjoyed his reading suggestions. Thanks for sharing that link.

    • My pleasure. His list of books is excellent. You are right, I could never remain as calm as he does nor could I choose so few books for the list. I have always loved Treasure Island. I just reread it a year or two ago!

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