'Are you a writer?' he enquired, in a voice very slightly tinged with amusement.Brookner is to be applauded for writing so rarely about writers. I can think of only a handful of writer-protagonists: Edith, here; Frances in Look at Me; and Jane in A Family Romance. None is quite a Brooknerian artist. Edith is a romance novelist; Frances writes Barbara Pym-style comic short stories for the New Yorker; and Jane is a children's writer.
Brookner was ambivalent as to the attractions of a writing life. It was a penance for being unlucky, she said in Look at Me (chapter 6). Later, in interview, she said writing had reprieved her from the despair of living. In Hotel du Lac Edith's work is 'obscure and unnoticeable', though her 'labours' are said to 'anaesthetise' her.
The Puseys are again a focus in chapter 4, and a note of seriousness is gestured towards. Their presumed ages are getting steadily higher; and 'in a way she could not define [the Puseys] were both out of date'. But it's men who take centre stage now, the man in grey (Mr Neville) in the present of the hotel, and David in another of Edith's reminiscences.
David is presented initially as an exotic figure. He talks of 'the Rooms' in which he works, and rather than auction rooms Edith imagines opium dens, Turkish baths, a tiled hammam, the Moorish paintings of Delacroix.
But his exoticism is really of another order, as John Haffenden in his early interview with Brookner pointed out:
The men in your novels ... have the common denominator of being staunch Christians...- and therefore distinct from the implied Jewishness, certainly foreignness, of the classic Brookner heroine. To which Brookner replied:
They are conservative, establishment creations, aren't they? And as such impervious to these dark imaginings, these brooding midnight fantasies.
Novelists in Interview, Methuen, 1985
Delacroix, Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement