It was this that—almost—lured me away from Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage: “Yourcenar reconstructed his library.” Long-term readers of this blog (both of you) will know of my attraction to libraries in fiction. That Marguerite Yourcenar, as part of her research for her Memoirs of Hadrian, reconstructed Hadrian’s Library persuaded me, nearly, to take a break from Pilgrimage.
Despite my antipathy to historical fiction, the first chapter was strong, promising, but then the jitters set in. All I wanted was to know what was happening in Miriam Henderson’s world, or rather what she was thinking about what was happening. Hadrian can wait. He’s waited long enough. Onward with Pilgrimage.
Melissa is reading Yourcenar, so if of interest, do read her excellent review of Two Lives and a Dream.
‘For men’s memory resembles those weary travelers who disencumber themselves of some useless baggage at each stop. So that they arrive naked, with their hands empty, at the place where they are to sleep, and on the day of the awakening will be like infants who know nothing of yesterday.’
‘Imperfect beings become agitated and couple in order to complete themselves, but purely beautiful things are as solitary as the grief of man.’
‘For everything keeps silence, even our soul—or else it is that we cannot hear.’
‘I am no longer young enough to attach importance to a separation, even if it is definitive. I know too well that the beings we love and who love us best are imperceptibly departing from us at every moment that passes. It is in this way that they depart from themselves.’
‘Man who invented time, then invented eternity for contrast; but the negation of time is as vain as time itself.’
‘A person’s love is such an unexpected gift, and so little deserved, that we should always be surprised that it is not taken back sooner.’
‘One possesses for all eternity only the friends from whom one has parted.’
Marguerite Yourcenar, Sistine, from That Mighty Sculptor, Time (trans. Walter Kaiser)
My memories of reading Geoff Dyer’s first essay collection Anglo-English Attitudes is bathed in the glow of idyllic location. We had driven for several hours from the Massif Central, south-central France, to find we were a day late for our hotel booking. An apologetic host explained that our room was now occupied by the mistress of a French politician, who preferred to sleep alone. There were no rooms available until the next day.
After providing us with refreshments, our host managed to find us lodging at a nearby hotel. This turned out to be the former home of the Marquis de Sade. We had discovered, by chance (it is always by chance, deliberation robs us of the true thrill), the ‘perfect hotel.’
Most of the essays I recall joyfully from Anglo-English Attitudes make it into Otherwise Known as the Human Condition. This book also includes all but six of the essays published in Working the Room.
Those I enjoyed most are the longer essays. Dyer is at his best with room to digress, with room for his exuberance to infect the reader. The essay on William Gedney is breathtaking. Dyer bears his erudition lightly, gently rousing Joyce, Coleridge, Walter Benjamin, Marguerite Yourcenar, Walt Whitman, Henry Miller and Fielding to help explore the tragic life of this autodidactic photographer.
Before finishing these essays I have been inspired to order a few photographer’s monographs, add a couple of novels to my wish list and listen to some jazz I hadn’t heard before. This isn’t dry criticism that you read solely to fine-tune your critical functions, Dyer inspires you to share his passions.