A thread on Litopia recently discussed the necessary qualities of novelists. Could niceness be one? I’ve been reading Something to Declare by Julian Barnes. (Who was it who wrote Nothing to Declare?) Barnes writes: “Could it be a rough truth that poets are egotists who write mainly about themselves, whereas novelists diffuse their personalities and are therefore more familiar with the action of sympathy”.
Barnes’ subsequent description of Simeon lifting the chamber maid’s skirt as she polishes the table and rogering her like a robber baron casts doubt on his theory. Or might for some.
Other snippets from Mr Barnes:
The great novelists are often poor. Henry James (“the motor is a magical marvel”) went motoring with Edith Wharton. Wharton was well off. Her motor had all mod cons, including windscreen. She told James she bought it with the proceeds of her last novel.
“With the proceeds of my last novel,” said James, “I purchased a small hand barrow on which my guests luggage is wheeled from the station to the house. With the proceeds of my next, I shall have it painted.”
And… did you know that John Updike wrote a poem called Two Cunts in Paris? It’s about Courbet’s painting, The Origin of the World, “a splayed female nude, painted for the Turkish diplomat, Khalil Bey.”
Beneath blanched thighs
Of fat and bridal docility
A curved and rosy closure says, “Ici!”
I presume Updike himself must be the other one.