A Parisian Memory

In the last days of enjoying long childhood-afternoons, in that transitory place between child and adult, I went to live in Paris. While at boarding school, I was profoundly affected by Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. He cast a portentous shadow over Paris and its beauty was insufficient compensation for the confusion of its streets. In time I’d find Paris the most thrilling city I’d ever lived, but not until I’d found my cold, dark room in a garret above a century-old bookstore with shelves full of books by left-wing philosophers.

The decision to go to Paris was whimsical, partly for a dark, brooding woman who looked like Zelda Fitzgerald –or perhaps Lou Andreas-Salomé, I can no longer recall–but also borne of a vision of roaming the endless hallways of the Louvre and other art galleries, confronting the secrets of the masterpieces. By day and night, Paris unfolded as I walked its streets, returning to my room with gifts of young artichokes, Mont d’Or cheese and village Burgundies, which were stored on the small balcony that served as our refrigerator.

Over a wet autumn, I read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, craving solitude so I could read beginning to end, surrounded by his confidantes, patronesses and lovers. I visited Proust’s grave at Père-Lachaise Cemetery and afterwards ate cold, salty oysters in his honour. To reread passages of Proust today is to be swept back to chestnut trees shedding dark reds and golds in the Luxembourg Gardens, flower beds lapsing to winter, and the taste of duck pâté, spread roughly on a baguette with a wood-handled pocket knife.

On my last day in Paris I ate sweetbreads for the first time at Les Deux Magots, where Beauvoir and Sartre argued philosophy with their entourage, and made un petit express last an hour so I could eavesdrop a conversation at the next table about the limits of knowledge. I copied a line into my notebook from the seventh Duino Elegy, “Nowhere, Beloved, will world be but within us. Our life passes in transformation. And the external wanes ever smaller.”

Book List

In no particular order, this is a list of my favourite writers/books. Of course, it is incomplete.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Pale Fire and Speak, Memory and literary lectures
Franz Kafka
Geoff Dyer
JG Ballard
Simone de Beauvoir
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
Hélène Cixous
Judith Butler
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
Søren Kierkegaard
Marguerite Duras
JM Coetzee
Robert Walser
Roland Barthes
Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup
Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Pascal Quignard’s The Roving Shadows
John William’s Stoner
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea
AM Homes
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Jay Griffith’s Wild: An Elemental Journey
Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s War and War
Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness
Samuel Beckett
Simon Critchley
Noam Chomsky
Roger Deakin
Carlos Fuentes’s Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
Ruth Reichl’s Endless Feast
Teju Cole’s Open City
Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation
Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? and The Lessons of Modernism
Virginia Woolf’s later novels and diaries
Jospeh Heller’s Something Happened
WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
Don DeLillo’s Underworld
Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Marcel Proust
Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Richard Power’s The Time of our Singing
Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues

Reading Women by Stephanie Staal

In the opening pages of  Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed my Life Stephanie Staal outlines a familiar plot: “And then I got married, had a baby, and everything changed”, and though married to a “progressive and supportive man” (though his credentials for that portrayal appear insubstantial) is disheartened when her narrative conforms to the familiar plot. Resolved not to forgo her feminist ideals Staal returns to college to take a Feminist Texts course. By the closing pages it is difficult to see what effect the ‘Fem Texts’ course had on Staal’s original distress and she concludes the memoir:

The storyteller in me wishes I could point to one watershed event, but the truth is that we had change slowly, incrementally, coming closer together through thousands of tiny moments that make up a day, a life. This didn’t have to happen. I knew from experience, both my own and others, that those moments could have just as well pulled us apart, if even one of us had chosen otherwise.

In other words, Staal participated in a relationship through the high and low points and grew. A memoir, engagingly told, not particularly profound, and one that fails to offer any substantive suggestions about how women (or men) can reconcile the broad ideals of feminism with marriage and parenthood. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

There is considerable value though in Reading Women is as a synoptic primer of feminism, at least as it pertains to the middle classes. Staal progresses chronologically through ‘Fem Texts’, with a fascinating summary of Elaine Pagel’s Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, an ‘intellectual history of the first two chapters of Genesis that traces traditional patterns of gender and sexuality’.

From there Staal argues convincingly for the continued relevance of first-generation feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft,  cleverly contrasts the fiction of Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and moves on to a half-hearted defence of Beauvoir. The strongest section of the book deals with the feminist writers most familiar to Staal, those of the sixties and seventies.

The section I had been anticipating with interest was the next generation that includes writers like Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray. Staal evidently struggled with these texts and reverts to the comfort blanket of Erica Jong, amusing enough but trite. She recovers towards the end when studying Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice, the one text Staal covers that I felt compelled to order immediately.

As a memoir it was a quick, occasionally amusing but ultimately forgettable event. As a whizz through three generations of feminist writers, for those, like me, that frequently know the names but only the basic arguments, it was a useful doorway to deeper exploration.

The Long Life by Helen Small

Youth and Old Age – Antonio Ciccone (1960)

Plato thought 50 an appropriate age to begin the study of philosophy. The Long Life is Helen Small’s pre-emptive (she admits to 42 at the time of writing her book) appraisal of old age in Western philosophy and literature.

Each of the chapters begins from a philosophical perspective – Platonic epistemology, Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics, narrative theories of lives, rational arguments about life-planning and distributive justice, Parfit’s ‘Reductionist View’ of persons, one (far from standard) account of metaphysics, and recent arguments through a consideration of literary texts (Death in Venice, King Lear, Le Père Goriot, The Old Curiosity Shop, Endgame, poems by Philip Larkin and Stevie Smith, more recent novels by Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, J. M. Coetzee, Margaret Drabble, Michael Ignatieff).

Taking Beauvoir’s La Vieillese (1970) as her starting point, Helen Small, a professor of English Literature,  attempts to “show what might be required if we are to become more seriously philosophical about old age”. Small’s close-reading of both philosophical and literary texts is frequently enlightening. Some chapters work better than others; her analysis, in particular, of Adorno’s late lectures on metaphysics, read against Dickens and Beckett, is vividly brilliant. The comparative reading of Parfit and Balzac yielded less. Her parallel reading of Coetzee and Roth is a remarkable work of literary criticism. It is an erudite and rewarding book.

A Year of Reading: 2011

I have read so many exceptional books this year. Samuel Beckett’s trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) left me breathless, as did the first two volumes of Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs (Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, The Prime of Life). My most recurrent author was Geoff Dyer as I read and reread to complete his oeuvre to date (Otherwise Known as the Human Condition, The Missing of the SommeWorking the RoomParis, Trance and Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi), all works of great wit and sensitivity. And there were J. M. Coetzee’s essays (Inner Workings and Stranger Shores), both examples of criticism as works of art in their own right. I finally got around to Thomas Bernhard (Old Masters) and Peter Handke’s work (The Weight of the World and Across), every bit as intoxicating as I’d hoped. Anne Carson’s  translation of An Oresteia was memorable, and only confirmed my wonder for everything she does.

My surprising fiction discoveries (I am always happily surprised to enjoy a new author’s work) were Teju Cole’s exceptionally exquisite Open CityJ. M. Ledgard’s thrilling Submergence (thanks, Nicole), Vyacheslav Pyetsukh’s The New Moscow Philosophy (thanks Michelle) and Jenny Erpenbeck’s haunting Visitation.

Of the non-fiction, Masha Tupitsyn’s Laconia was charming and thought-provoking (to this day), Michael Levenson’s Modernism was the comprehensive history I was seeking. Stach’s Kafka biography leaves me starving for the next volume. My current book, Helen Small’s The Long Life is (so far) brilliant and a superb way to end the year.

I’m not able or willing to pick out a single favourite from either the fiction or non-fiction categories. I read a few books this year I loathed. Given the author is not living I will give Christopher Morley’s Parnassus on Wheels my coveted ‘I Wish I Could Get That Time Back Award’.

Geeky Statistics

  1. 40% of the eighty books I read were in translation (mostly from German), up from 30% last year.
  2. 18% of the books I read were written by women; I am disappointed this is exactly the same as last year.
  3. 52% of the books I read were written by living authors, pretty much the same as 2010.
  4. 58% of the books I read were fiction, up 14% from last year.

Other literary highlights of my year were attending John Berger’s angry and passionate reading of Bento’s Sketchbook and Geoff Dyer’s enlightening talk about Camus.

During 2011, with the help of readers, I compiled a list of female writers we should be reading and bibliographies of worthwhile secondary literature on the works of Kafka and Beckett.

Thanks to my book blogging friends, particularly Emily (Beckett, de Beauvoir) and Nicole (Goethe) with whom I shared reading explorations this year, and Frances whom I joined in a crazed attempt to read all 42 in Melville House’s Art of the Novella series, abandoning the attempt after thirteen novellas. I don’t participate in many read-a-longs but made an exception and had fun during German Literature month, organised by Caroline and Lizzy.

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal

Fictional endings disappoint, and the conclusion of The Charterhouse of Parma is perhaps its only true imperfection. Although a highly realist novel, Stendhal manipulates his story lines to a displeasingly tidy conclusion. Nabokov wrote to ask an expert in French literature, ‘Did Stendhal even pen a decent sentence?’ Unlike Flaubert, with whom Stendhal shares the ability to construct a precise world, Stendhal is not a meticulous obsessive, sweating over his sentences. He is a narrator, a phenomenal storyteller.

Stendhal successfully adopts an ‘intelligent tone of conversation’. Though he takes readers through the end of the Napoleonic era, and into the political intrigues of nineteenth century Italian court life, he never bogs the reader down with extraneous historical padding. The omniscient narrator, misleading from the first pages, takes no sides as the reader is told the parallel, deeply intertwined stories of the noble Fabrizio del Dongo and his aunt Gina, Duchess Sanseverina.

Of the two, Sanseverina, is better realised and unforgettable in her passion and percipience. The third protagonist Clelia is more illusive, succeeding more in her relation to Fabrizio. Their love story is one of the most sublime in literature, easily overwhelming that of Jerome and Alissa. After Fabrizio’s killing of the ‘mummer’ (sort of mime artist, reason enough to be killed surely), Giletti, he is imprisoned in a debilitating environment. Though Fabrizio has long dreaded prison, it is here he falls in love, for the first time, with Clelia. Despite the dreadful conditions of his imprisonment and the constant risk of poisoning, he initially resists encouragement to escape:

I would expose myself every day to the prospect of a thousand deaths to have the happiness of speaking to you with the help of our alphabets, which now never defeat us for a moment, and you wish me to be such a fool as to exile myself in Parma, or perhaps at Bologna, or even Florence! Understand that any such effort is impossible for me; it would be useless to give you my word, I could never keep it.

Stendhal’s world lives off the page because of the depth of his characters, fully realised, psychologically complex creations. In a memorable scene, Duchess Sanseverina outclasses the Prince of Parma, using contempt and cunning intelligence to apparently win Fabrizio’s freedom. The Prince turns to Count Mosca, her courtly lover, and says, ‘What a woman!’ It is darkly funny at the time but the reader also senses that Sanseverina’s victory over the Prince will not be without cost.

I wrote previously about Stendhal’s treatment of female characters, quoting Beauvoir, ‘He undertook something that no other novelist, I think, has ever done: he projected himself into a female character.’  Beauvoir lead me to Stendhal, so it is appropriate I end these thoughts with Beauvoir, from The Second Sex, in a sentence that evokes the strength of Sanseverina:

The day when it will be possible for the woman to love in her strength and not in her weakness, not to escape but to find herself, not out of resignation but to affirm herself, love will become for her as for man the source of life and not a mortal danger.

Stendhal’s Women

What stands out most, two-thirds of the way through The Charterhouse of Parma, is the life that Stendhal injects into his characters. The plot will fade, the nuances of Italian court life will cease to matter, but in years to come I will remember, of course, Fabrizio del Dongo and, possibly, the forlorn Count Mosca, but undoubtedly Duchess Sanseverina.

Simone de Beauvoir, an enthusiast for Stendhal’s writing, admired his understanding of women. In The Second Sex, Beauvoir writes [of Stendhal]:

This tender friend of women – and precisely because he loves them in their truth – does not believe in feminine mystery; there is no essence that defines women once and for all; the idea of an ‘eternal feminine’ seems pedantic and ridiculous to him. ‘Pedants have been repeating for two thousand years that women have quicker minds and men more solidity; that women have more subtlety in ideas and men more attention span. A Parisian passer-by walking around the Versailles gardens once concluded that from everything he saw, the trees are born pruned.’

Beauvoir goes on to say:

Stendhal never describes his heroines as a function of his heroes: he provides them with their own destiny. He undertook something that no other novelist, I think, has ever done: he projected himself into a female character.

This is the strength of Sanseverina, true also of Clelia, the second of the duo of women that love Fabrizio. It is through them that Fabrizio learns about the world, but they have a destiny of their own. Allow Fabrizio to fade into the background of Charterhouse, and Sanseverina’s story still screams to be told.

Stendhal: Prototypical Authentic

My recent readings of Sartre and Beauvoir provided the impetus to read Stendhal. Both considered Stendhal a favourite writer.

I’m currently relishing The Charterhouse of Parma; strong characters and such pace, though I can understand Nabokov’s assertion that Stendhal never wrote a great sentence. The man can tell a story but, in my translation, is patently not a stylist.

I’m also reading, as is my inclination, around Stendhal, and fascinated by the argument that Stendhal was a prototypical Sartrean hero of authenticity. Stendhal, Henri Beyle originally, was much preoccupied with the problem of self, summed up by four personal maxims:

  1. Know yourself
  2. Be yourself
  3. Shape yourself
  4. Hide yourself
Stendhal’s goal was to become natural (whatever that means). After failing to live up to these maxims, Stendhal turned, in the second half of his life, to fiction as a way of realising his goal through his characters.
Living up to his fourth maxim, Stendhal used over a hundred pseudonyms. His autobiographical works are Memoirs of an Egotist, his Private Diaries and The Life of Henry Brulard.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

I am a serendipitous reader, allowing chance references to lead me meanderingly from book to book, author to author. The timing of my discovery of Rebecca’s Classics Circuit was impeccable, hard on the discovery of William Faulkner’s influence on Beauvoir. Sartre said, “The technique of Simone de Beauvoir, also, was inspired by Faulkner. Without him she never would have conceived the idea, used in Le Sang des Autres, of cutting the chronological order of the story and substituting instead a more subtle order, half logical, half intuitive.”

Describing Faulkner and, in particular of As I Lay Dying, Beauvoir wrote:

Not only did he show great skill in deploying and harmonising multiple viewpoints, but he got inside each individual mind, setting forth its knowledge and ignorance, its moments of insincerity, its fantasies, the words it formed and the silences it kept. As a result the narrative was bathed in a chiaroscuro, which gave each event the greatest possible highlight and shadow.

The contrasts in As I Lay Dying are intriguing, foremost the language: the vernacular coexistent with the poetic. Whilst reading the viewpoint of confused child Vardaman, after a period of rambling thought interspersed with dialogue, the narrative offers:

It is as though the dark were resolving him out of his integrity, into an unrelated scattering of components-snuffings and stampings; smells of cooling flesh and ammoniac hair; an illusion of a coordinated whole of splotched hide and strong bones within which, detached and secret and familiar, an is different from my is.

Faulkner is, I surmise, not expecting the reader to concede this as part of Vardaman’s stream of consciousness. So who narrates here, and on similar occasions elsewhere? I know little of Faulkner and his reading of psychology, but took it to be the voice of the unconscious, ‘it, the Id, that never shuts up’ that, ‘talks even when it is silent’.

The fifteen fragmentary viewpoints on offer in As I Lay Dying include the departed mother; not too much of a stretch that the Id has a voice. The technique is intriguing but somehow works to give us precisely that chiaroscuro of deep contrasts, between speech, thought and action.

Beauvoir finds the dark comedy in As I Lay Dying. Though disturbing, there is a surreal humour in the rag-tag Bundren family traipsing across the county to bury the decomposing, odiferous corpse of the lady of the house. We expect the set pieces, like the coffin almost being borne away on the river , before they occur, but find agony and a smidgen of humour in that inevitability. Beauvoir adds, “If objects or habits were presented to the reader in a preposterous light, the reason was that misery and want not only change man’s attitude to things but transform the very appearance of things.”

One Thing Lead to Another

In between Simone de Beauvoir and William Faulkner, I read Stephen Fry’s Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music as told to Tim Lihorean. The book served my purpose, which was to provide a contextual structure for the major composers, who influenced who, etc. The content was exceptional, but the tone of the book I found excruciating. It depends on whether you enjoy Stephen Fry’s schtick. I don’t.

The subject continues to fascinate me, and like the dangers of shandy or marijuana, Stephen Fry lead to harder stuff, in the form of the wonderful The Oxford History of Western Music by controversial musicologist Richard Taruskin.

The Prime of Life by Simone de Beauvoir

Halfway into The Prime of Life, Simone de Beauvoir signals to the reader of her autobiography that:

I still believe to this day in the theory of the ‘transcendental ego.’ The self (moi) has only a probable objectivity, and anyone saying ‘I’ only grasps the outer edge of it; an outsider can get a clearer and more accurate picture. Let me repeat that this personal account is not offered in any sense as an ‘explanation.’ Indeed, one of my main reasons for undertaking it is my realisation that self-knowledge is impossible, and the best one can hope for is self-revelation.

With this in mind, it is thrilling to share in her exploration of how a conscious mind examines its acts. In this volume, Simone de Beauvoir relives the achievement of her literary apprenticeship, life with Sartre and the years of Paris’s occupation by the Nazis.

The stimulation of this brilliant book comes from reading yourself into the mind of a fiercely intelligent woman attempting to interpret her earlier life with unremitting honesty. The ‘I’ that gives testimony in this autobiography clearly possesses a knowledge denied to the ‘I’ who lived through these events. As in the first volume of her autobiography Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, de Beauvoir places her younger self under the microscope with the cool rationality that only the perspective of time allows.

In my reading of Memoirs and her diary of the same period, the diary offered a more emotive reading. The same insight is available in The Prime of Life from the extracts of diaries de Beauvoir provides as narrative of the early years of the war.

It is inconceivable that The Prime of Life is out of print in an English translation. It is superior to Memoirs, a first-rate autobiography in its own right. My intention is to read the remaining volumes, but not for a while. My immersion under the skin of de Beauvoir has been all-consuming.

Thoughts a Third of the Way into The Prime of Life

After twelve days I am a third of the way through the second volume of Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography The Prime of Life. This 1973 Penguin edition is over 600 pages of small, closely set type, but I am reading slowly, fountain pen in hand scribbling page after page of notes. I have no urge to rush.

Once again, de Beauvoir applies her considerable intellect to observing herself as a young adult. The view is microscopic and unswerving. I love the way de Beauvoir tackles self as a perpetual project.

If the bad habits which I attributed to Chantal irked me so much, that was not so much through having observed them in Simone Labourdin as because I had slipped into them myself: during the past two or three years I had more than once yielded to the temptation of embellishing my life history with false items of information. Alone in Marseille, I had more or less purged myself of this weakness, though I still reproached myself for it.

There’s gossip: Sartre and de Beauvoir enjoyed dissecting the personalities of friends and acquaintances. There’s much discussion about literature: her love of Stendhal, of Proust and Conrad, and the excited discovery of the translated works of Faulkner, Kafka and Dos Passos. de Beauvoir also explains why she chose literature over philosophical writing:

[…] I did not regard myself as a philosopher: I was well aware that the ease with which I penetrated to the heart of a [philosophical] text stemmed, precisely, from my lack of originality. In this field a genuinely creative talent is so rare that queries as to why I did not attempt to join the élite are surely otiose: it would be more useful to explain how certain individuals are capable of getting results from that conscious venture into lunacy known as a ‘philosophical system’ . . . I wanted to communicate the element of originality in my own experience. In order to do this successfully I knew it was literature towards which I must orientate myself.

As an aside I came across this wonderful blog that explores “the mind, method and masterpieces of David Markson through the marginalia found on the pages of the books in his personal library.” This snippet made me hoot with laughter:

On which Markson placed a checkmark next to a paragraph discussing the sex life of Nelson Algren:

“My introduction stops here. I knew very little about Algren’s sex life (or about my own, for that matter). I subsequently learned from Deirdre Bair’s Simone de Beauvoir (Summit, 1990) that he helped Miss de Beauvoir achieve her first orgasm. (The only person I ever helped achieve a first orgasm was good old me.) In Iowa City, Algren would refer to her as ‘Madame Yak Yak’ because she had given their relationship so much publicity.”

—-

“Nelson Algren, not Sartre, gave Simone de Beauvoir her first orgasm.”

Wrote Markson on pg. 30 of Reader’s Block, utilizing the above information.

Not only did Simone de Beauvoir not achieve her first orgasm with Sartre, but she was also taller than him, as Markson explained in Vanishing Point:

“Simone de Beauvoir was one inch taller than Sartre.” (Pg. 133).

Though there is absolutely no evidence to conclude that these facts are at all related—and how or why would they be?—am I the only one tempted to draw some sort of ridiculous conclusion?

Reading a Lost Generation

This evening I added my name to the American Lost Generation tour. I like serendipity to channel my reading, and dipping into William Faulkner seems fitting, given his influence on Simone de Beauvoir’s early novels. Sartre is quoted, in 1946:

The technique of Simone de Beauvoir, also, was inspired by Faulkner. Without him she never would have conceived the idea, used in Le Sang des Autres, of cutting the chronological order of the story and substituting instead a more subtle order, half logical, half intuitive. And as for me, it was after reading a book by Dos Passos that I thought for the first time of weaving a novel out of various, simultaneous lives, with characters who pass each other by without ever knowing one another and who all contribute to the atmosphere of a moment or of a historical period.

For the tour I plan to read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

[Thanks to @sashasilverfysh of Sasha and The Silverfish who’s tweet provided the chance inspiration.]

Strait is the Gate by André Gide

“Who was this Gide whose name [he] uttered one afternoon, almost furtively, and with a smile that seemed to ask forgiveness for his audacity?”

Introduced to the writing of André Gide by an early mentor, Simone de Beauvoir feasted on everything he wrote. This early Gide story takes its title from the King James bible, “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Thrown by the blurb on the back cover of my Penguin Classics edition, which reads, “A devastating exploration of aestheticism taken to extremes,” I was half way through before I realised the typo: for ‘aestheticism,’ read ‘asceticism’.

Though there are nods toward modernism, Strait is the Gate is fundamentally a Romantic story of doomed love. Gide writes exquisitely; the suppressed agonising of the three primary characters, Jerome, Alissa and Juliette is visceral in its despair; the final chapter is almost unendurable.

Written in the first-person, Gide uses letters and a diary to present contrasting perspectives. During an uneasy walk after a long absence, Jerome narrates:

My head was aching so badly that I could not extract a single idea from it; to keep myself in countenance, or because I thought that the gesture might serve instead of words, I had taken Alissa’s hand, which she let me keep. Our emotion, the rapidity of our walk, and the awkwardness of our silence, sent the blood to our faces; I felt my temples throbbing; Alissa’s colour was unpleasantly heightened; and soon the discomfort of feeling the contact of our damp hands made us unclasp them and let them drop sadly to our sides.

Days later, when the couple have again parted, Alissa writes:

But when our lugubrious expedition to Orcher came to an end without a word, when, above all, our hands unclasped and fell apart so hopelessly, I thought my heart would have fainted within me for grief and pain. And what distressed me most was not so much that your hand let go of mine, but my feeling that if yours had not, mine would have done so, for my hand no longer felt happy in yours.

Alissa adds a postscript to this letter with the phrase, “[…] your love was above all intellectual, the beautiful tenacity of a tender and faithful mind.” I am much taken with the concept of an ‘intellectual love,’ so devastatingly accurate; I write it in my notebook and repeat it throughout the day.