Interesting Times

‘Do teachers go anywhere special when they die?’ said Cohen.

‘I don’t think so,’ said Mr Savelop gloomily. He wondered for a moment whether there really was a great Free Period in the sky. It didn’t sound very likely. Probably there would be some marking to do.

‘Are we meddling with things we don’t understand, Ponder?’

… He thought: meddle first, understand later. You had to meddle a bit before you had anything to try to understand. And the thing was never, ever, to go back and hide in the Lavatory of Unreason. You have to try to get your mind around the Universe before you can give it a twist.

The Count of Monte Cristo

“I too, as happens to every man once in his life, have been taken by Satan into the highest mountain in the earth, and when there he showed me all the kingdoms of the world, and as he said before, so said he to me, ‘Child of earth, what wouldst thou have to make thee adore me?’

I reflected long, for a gnawing ambition had long preyed upon me, and then I replied, ‘Listen, I have always heard of providence, and yet I have never seen him, or anything that resembles him, or which can make me believe that he exists. I wish to be providence myself,  for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.’

Satan bowed his head, and groaned. ‘You mistake,’ he said, ‘providence does exist, only you have never seen him, because the child of God is as invisible as the parent. You have seen nothing that resembles him, because he works by secret springs, and moves by hidden ways. All I can do for you is to make you one of the agents of that providence.’

The bargain was concluded. I may sacrifice my soul, but what matters it?” added Monte Cristo. “If the thing were to do again, I would again do it.”

King Solomon’s Ring

The creative writer, in depicting an animal’s behaviour, is under no great obligation to keep within the bounds of exact truth than is the painter or the sculptor in shaping an animal’s likeness. But   all three artists must regard it as their most sacred duty to be properly instructed regarding those particulars in which they deviate from the actual facts. They must indeed be even better informed on these details than on others which they render in a manner true to nature. There is no greater sin against the spirit of true art, no more contemptible dilettantism than to use artistic license as a specious cover for ignorance of fact.


Lucy recognised the cover of one of them at once, it was Wuthering Heights.

Miss Entwhistle took it up, read its title in silence, and put it down again.

The next one was Emily Brontë’s collected poems.

Miss Entwhistle took it up, read its title in silence, and put it down again.

The third one was Thomas Hardy’s Time’s Laughing-Stocks.

Miss Entwhistle took it up, read its title in silence, and put it down again.

The other three were Baedekers.

‘Well, I don’t think there’s anything I want to read here,’ she said.

Lizzie asked if she should take them away then, and bring some more; and presently she reappeared with another armful.

These were all Baedekers.

‘Curious,’ said Miss Entwhistle.

Then Lucy remembered that she, too, beneath her distress on Saturday when she pulled out one after the other of Vera’s books in her haste to understand her, to get comfort, to get, almost she hoped, counsel, had felt surprise at the number of Baedekers. The greater proportion of the books in Vera’s shelves were guide-books and time-tables. But there had been other things,—’If you were to bring some out of a different part of the bookcase,’ she suggested to Lizzie; who thereupon removed the Baedekers, and presently reappeared with more books.

This time they were miscellaneous, and Miss Entwhistle turned them over with a kind of reverential reluctance. That poor thing; this day last year she was probably reading them herself. It seemed sacrilege for two strangers…. Merciful that one couldn’t see into the future. What would the poor creature have thought of the picture presented at that moment,—the figure in the blue dressing-gown, sitting in the middle of all the things that had been hers such a very little while before? Well, perhaps she would have been glad they weren’t hers any longer, glad that she had finished, was done with them. These books suggested such tiredness, such a—yes, such a wish for escape…. There was more Hardy,—all the poems this time in one volume. There was Pater—The Child in the House and Emerald Uthwart—Miss Entwhistle, familiar with these, shook her head: that peculiar dwelling on death in them, that queer, fascinated inability to get away from it, that beautiful but sick wistfulness no, she certainly wouldn’t read these. There was a book called In the Strange South Seas; and another about some island in the Pacific; and another about life in the desert; and one or two others, more of the flamboyant guide-book order, describing remote, glowing places….

Suddenly Miss Entwhistle felt uncomfortable. She put down the book she was holding, and folded her hands in her lap and gazed out of the window at the hills on the other side of the river. She felt as if she had been prying, and prying unpardonably. The books people read,—was there ever anything more revealing? No, she refused to examine Vera’s books further. And apart from that horrible feeling of prying upon somebody defenceless, upon somebody pitiful, she didn’t wish to allow the thought these books suggested to get any sort of hold on her mind.

In the Mountains

There is the oddest lot of books in this house, pitchforked together by circumstances, and sometimes their accidental rearrangement by Antoine after cleaning their shelves each spring of my absence would make their writers, if they could know, curdle between their own covers. Some are standing on their heads—Antoine has no prejudices about the right side up of an author—most of those in sets have their volumes wrong, and yesterday I found a Henry James, lost from the rest of him, lost even, it looked like, to propriety, held tight between two ladies. The ladies were Ouida and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. They would hardly let him go, they had got him so tight. I pulled him out, a little damaged, and restored him, ruffled in spite of my careful smoothing, to his proper place. It was the Son and Brother; and there he had been for months, perhaps years, being hugged. Dreadful.

When I come down to breakfast and find I am a little ahead of the café au lait, I wander into the place that has most books in it—though indeed books are in every place, and have even oozed along the passages—and fill up the time, till Mrs. Antoine calls me, in rescue work of an urgent nature. But it is impossible, I find, to tidy books without ending by sitting on the floor in the middle of a great untidiness and reading. The coffee grows cold and the egg repulsive, but still I read. You open a book idly, and you see:

The most glaring anomalies seemed to afford them no intellectual inconvenience, neither would they listen to any arguments as to the waste of money and happiness which their folly caused them. I was allowed almost to call them life-long self-deceivers to their faces, and they said it was quite true, but that it did not matter.

Naturally then you read on.

You open another book idly, and you see:

Our admiration of King Alfred is greatly increased by the fact that we know very little about him.

Naturally then you read on.

You open another book idly, and you see:

Organic life, we are told, has developed gradually from the protozoon to the philosopher, and this development, we are assured, is indubitably an advance. Unfortunately it is the philosopher, not the protozoon, who gives us this assurance.

Naturally then you read on.

But, really, the accidental juxtapositions on my bookshelves! Just now I found George Moore (his Memories of my Dead Life, with its delicate unmoralities, its delicious paganism) with on one side of him a book called Bruey: a Little Worker for Christ, by Frances Ridley Havergal, and on the other an American book called The Unselfishness of God, and How I Discovered It.

The surprise of finding these three with their arms, as it were, round each other’s necks, got me nearer to laughter than I have been for months. If anybody had been with me I would have laughed

American Gods

Fiction allows us to slide into these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.

..whether home was a thing that happened to a place after a while, or if it was something that you found in the end, if you simply walked and waited and willed it long enough.