Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Throne of Reason

I've made a start on The Unquiet Grave. Thirty odd pages in I can't help but wonder if Palinurus is not suffering from a surfeit of education and a deficiency of application. It is certainly staggering to think an exact contemporary and school mate of George Orwell could evolve such a tortuous prose style.

Apparently, Nancy Mitford sent Evelyn Waugh a copy of the book just after he had completed Brideshead Revisited. "Waugh read and reread Connolly's book and scribbled his reactions on the margins."

The marginalia are extensive, full of insight and full of self-delusion. Waugh used the opportunity both to excoriate and to analyse his old acquaintance ("friend" is too loaded a word for their complex relationship) and the comments he made on the book are fascinating, not just for what they say about Connolly but also for the light they throw on Waugh himself.

I'd certainly love to read a facsimile edition of Waugh's copy. (Box 7, folder 1 in the University of Texas collection of his papers.)

Failing that, I can't see myseslf sitting down and reading it from cover to cover, so I'm going to install it in the smallest room in the house; a venue where its episodic presentation - aphorisms, quotes, short digressions, though no jokes alas - may work to its advantage. "A marvelous book to dip into". That way, at least, I've a decent chance of finishing it by April, rusty O Level French and extensive quotations from Pascal et al in their original language notwithstanding. Oh for the soi-disant bien pensant!

In the interests of historically accurate reportage, I might as well record that I gave up on the book for last night on page 37, where I was amazed to read a precursor of Richard Dawkins' selfish gene bait and switch, to wit: "What grape, to keep its place in the sun, taught our ancestors to make wine?"

Nothing knew under the sun eh? It also didn't help that my subconscious was continually murmering:

Half-a-bee, philosophically
Must ipso-facto half not-be.
But half the bee, has got to bee
Vis-a-vis its entity ... d'you see?
But can a bee be said to be
Or not to be an entire bee
When half the bee is not a bee
Due to some ancient injury?


La di di, a-one-two-three
Eric The Half-A-Bee
Eric The Half-A-Bee
Is this a-wretched demi-bee
Half asleep upon my knee
Some freak from a managerie?
NO! It's Eric The Half-A-Bee!
A-fiddle-di-dum, a-fiddle-di-dee
Eric The Half-A-Bee
Ho-ho-ho, tee-hee-hee
Eric The Half-A-Bee
I love this hive employ-e-e
Bisected accidentally
One summer afternoon by me
I love him carnally
He loves him carnally
Semi-carnally. The end.

Cyril Connolly?
(Sings): Cyril Connolly

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