Sunday, 11 December 2016

On an Author's Conversation

Those who raise admiration by their books disgust by their company, said Samuel Johnson. He goes on:
A transition from an author's books to his conversation, is too often like an entrance into a large city, after a distant prospect. Remotely, we see nothing but spires of temples, and turrets of palaces, and imagine it the residence of splendour, grandeur, and magnificence; but, when we have passed the gates, we find it perplexed with narrow passages, disgraced with despicable cottages, embarrassed with obstructions, and clouded with smoke.
The Rambler, No. 14, 5 May 1750

She was witty, glitteringly intelligent, reserved, and unknowable beyond the point she herself had already decided upon. I can’t think of a novelist less likely to write an autobiography.
Julian Barnes in the Guardian, 18 March 2016 (Link)

Unknowable beyond the point she herself had already decided upon: 'I am not about to reveal all,' she told one of her interviewers. Let us consider once more those extraordinary conversations. One senses they were, pace Johnson, rather carefully rehearsed performances. But Dr Johnson was, almost in spite of himself, very social. and, especially with a fellow like Boswell tracking his every move, probably therefore felt a little sensitive. But Dr Brookner, like those Manhattan aristos the van der Luydens in The Age of Innocence, kept herself rare; mistrusted, like Henry James, 'the terrible fluidity of self-revelation'; and like her narrator in Incidents in the Rue Laugier held firm to the notion that the living and even the dead had a right to their mysteries.

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