Thursday 18 May 2017

The Crude Manners of the Age

Her exquisite manners disarm and put visitors at ease, and at the same time secure a reasonable distance. 
She offers coffee from a cafetiere, and seats herself on the sofa: immaculately dressed; perfectly contained in her movements, a woman of impeccable manners and propriety.

'I had not quite learned the crude manners of the age,' says Alan Sherwood in chapter 4 of Altered States, and there follows a rather dreary account of a time when he complimented a secretary's looks and she took umbrage; this is more about political correctness than manners, though the line about the age's crude manners remains valid. And it is true of so many Brooknerians, and results in many a misunderstanding. But would they ever have had it any other way? What might have its origins in shyness gradually, with greater confidence, becomes a cherished trait, a means of self-protection: protective colouring, as Brookner said in another interview.

Brookner herself, as we see, was famed for her good manners - manners not frosty but certainly distancing. 'You will find yourself babbling,' Julian Barnes advised the Telegraph interviewer. I indeed found myself doing that when I met her. Not that Dr Brookner scorned me; she was politeness itself. But I was on my mettle.

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