Sunday 17 September 2017

Undue Influence: Prelude

It was not the first time I had been guilty of a misapprehension.
Anita Brookner, Undue Influence, ch. 1

Chapter 1 of Undue Influence (1999) is a Brookner curiosity. It functions as a prelude, connected only thematically with the plot that will get under way in the next chapter. It sets me thinking of the Prelude to Middlemarch, which I first read in my teens. Why, I wondered, was George Eliot telling me about St Theresa?

Chapter 1 of Undue Influence, which ends with the ominous line above, concerns the narrator's failure to understand events in an upstairs flat. I am reminded of Jane Manning in Brookner's A Family Romance, who misconstrues the identity of a pair of French Canadians in a neighbouring apartment. I think also of Barbara Pym and her sister and their elaborate fantasies or 'sagas'. Inspired by the 1930s novelist Rachel Ferguson (The Brontës Went to Woolworths), the Pym sisters would all but stalk their unsuspecting neighbours and other strangers they observed out and about in the locale. The progress of several such sagas is covered cheerfully and in some depth by Pym's biographer Hazel Holt in A Lot to Ask: a Life of Barbara Pym.

Still vigilant:
Pym in 1979 in Finstock, Oxfordshire

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