Tuesday 6 November 2018

Deserted, and in want of me

Fibich in Brookner's Latecomers travels to Berlin. It is before 1989, which adds to the peril. He wanders homelessly the scenes of his abbreviated early life. He visits certain streets. He views a Gainsborough. It is only later, back in England, while eating in a London restaurant, that he breaks down. He should have stayed, he realised. As the Kindertransport began to move, he should have opened the train door and run back to his mother as she waited on the platform and who, in truth, he never saw again.

Brookner had plans to visit her father’s home city, Piotrków Trybunalski in Poland, but did not. It would have been too difficult, especially before the fall of communism, and she mightn’t have found whatever she was looking for.

Brookner’s father, known as Newson, came to England before the First World War. Her maternal grandfather, also Polish, from Warsaw, was already established in the new country, and indeed supplied cigars to the Royal Family. This isn’t directly a story of the Holocaust.

Yet he retained, she said, all his life the simple incomprehension and unhappiness of an exile. So many of Brookner’s characters have such feelings, even those that are fully English, such as Zoë in The Bay of Angels. Newson Brookner, shy, quiet, diffident, compared unfavourably with the showy, effusive, successful men of her mother’s family. They found him difficult to talk to. His only comment on his translated life was that he missed the smell of pine forests. His sadness seemed unlovely to the young Anita, who was more easily attracted by her uncles’ expansiveness and jollity. Later she didn’t miss her father, or dream of him. But she came to feel as he had felt. He was encoded in her personality.

In writing of her father, Anita Brookner finished with a quote from Little Dorrit, from the letter Amy Dorrit writes to Arthur Clennam from Venice:
Another difficulty that I have will seem very strange to you. It must seem very strange to anyone but me, and does even to me: I often feel the old sad pity for – I need not write the word – for him. Changed as he is, and inexpressibly blest and thankful as I am to know it, the old sorrowful feeling of compassion comes upon me sometimes with such strength that I want to put my arms round his neck, tell him how I love him, and cry a little on his breast. I should be glad after that, and proud and happy. But I know that I must not do this; that he would not like it ... and so I quiet myself. Yet in doing so, I struggle with the feeling that I have come to be at a distance from him; and that even in the midst of all the servants and attendants, he is deserted, and in want of me.

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