I am preparing for your edification, dear bloggers, posts on Henry Miller, Katherine Mansfield, poststructuralism and Margaret Fuller, but it just so happens that at present I’m feeling rather tired and also beset by a whole host of work deadlines. It’s amazing how things you promised to do a long time ago and to different parties always end up being called in at the same time. So, I’m afraid a certain ruthlessness has to come into play here and I’m only doing the essentials. It doesn’t help that my computer is making a nasty grinding noise that seems to hint at the imminent demise of the hard drive; so I am considering it chronically fatigued too, and trying not to overwork it.
Anyhow, I thought I would post a bit of a competition to cover over the neglect of my site. I’ve never done one before, so it’s high time. Below are a series of extracts from classic novels and stories. There’s a point to be had for identifying the author, and another if you can guess the work. The person with the most points will win a prize (which we’ll figure out when I know who’s won – I want it to be appropriate).
1. In the confusion attending my fall, I did not immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance, which yet, in a few seconds afterward, and while I still lay prostrate, arrested my attention. It was this – my chin rested upon the floor of the prison, but my lips and the upper portion of my head, although seemingly at a less elevation than the chin, touched nothing. At the same time my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapor, and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. I put forward my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pit, whose extent, of course, I had no means of ascertaining at the moment.
2. His sleep was deep and dreamless; he had not slept like that for a long time. When he awakened after many hours, it seemed to him as if ten years had passed. He heard the soft rippling of the water; he did not know where he was nor what had brought him there. He looked up and was surprised to see the trees and the sky above him. He remembered where he was and how he came to be there. He felt a desire to remain there for a long time. The past now seemed to him to be covered by a veil, extremely remote, very unimportant. He only knew that his previous life ( at the first moment of his return to consciousness his previous life seemed to him like a remote incarnation, like an earlier birth of his present Self) was finished, that it was so full of nausea and wretchedness that he had wanted to destroy it, but that he had come to himself by a river, under a coconut tree, with the holy word Om on his lips. Then he had fallen asleep, and on awakening he looked at the world like a new man.
3. I can’t prove that lay readers enjoy books more than professional critics; but I can tell you one advantage we have over them. We can forget. Dr Starkie and her kind are cursed with memory: the books they teach and write about can never fade from their brains. They become family. Perhaps this is why some critics develop a faintly patronizing tone toward their subjects. They act as if Flaubert, or Milton, or Wordsworth were some tedious old aunt in a rocking chair, who smelt of stale powder, was only interested in the past, and hadn’t said anything new for years. […] Whereas the common but passionate reader is allowed to forget; he can go away, be unfaithful with other writers, come back and be entranced again. Domesticity need never intrude on the relationship; it may be sporadic, but when there it is always intense. There’s none of the daily rancour which develops when people live bovinely together. I never find myself, fatigue in my voice, reminding Flaubert to hang up the bathmat or use the lavatory brush.
4. With straining eagerness Catherine gazed towards the entrance of her chamber. He did not hit the right room directly; she motioned me to admit him; but he found it out, ere I could reach the door, and in a stride or two was at her side, and had her grasped in his arms.
He neither spoke, nor loosed his hold, for some five minutes, during which period he bestowed more kisses than ever he gave in his life before, I dare say; but then my mistress had kissed him first, and I plainly saw that he could hardly bear, for downright agony, to look in her face. The same conviction had stricken him as me, from the instant he beheld her, that there was no prospect of ultimate recovery there – she was fated, sure to die.
5. It is half-past eleven, she says, and the sound of St Margaret’s glides into the recesses of the heart and buries itself in ring after ring of sound, like something alive which wants to confide itself, to disperse itself, to be, with a tremor of delight, at rest – like Clarissa herself, thought Peter Walsh, coming downstairs on the stroke of the hour in white. It is Clarissa herself, he thought, with a deep emotion, and an extraordinarily clear, yet puzzling, recollection of her, as if this bell had come into the room years ago, where they sat at some moment of great intimacy, and had gone from one to the other and had left, like a bee with honey, laden with the moment. But what room? What moment? And why had he been so profoundly happy when the clock was striking?
6. ‘I think, my lord, we must have run off the proper road at Leamholt. Unless I am much mistaken, we must be near Fenchurch St. Paul.’
As he spoke, the sound of a church clock, muffled by the snow, came borne upon the wind; it chimed the first quarter.
‘Thank God!’ said […]. ‘Where there is a church, there is civilization. We’ll have to walk it. Never mind the suitcases; we can send somebody for them. Br’rh! it’s cold. I bet that when Kingsley welcomed the wild north-easter he was sitting indoors by a good fire, eating muffins. I could do with a muffin myself. Next time I accept hospitality in the Fen-country, I’ll take care that it’s at midsummer, or else I’ll go by train. The church lies to windward of us, I fancy. It would.’
7. Enquiries had been made at Marengo, and the magistrates had learned that I’d ‘displayed a lack of emotion’ on the day of mother’s funeral. ‘You will understand,’ my lawyer said, ‘that I feel rather embarrassed at having to ask you this. But it matters a great deal. And the prosecution will have a strong case if I can’t find anything to reply.’ He wanted me to help him. He asked me if I’d felt any grief on that day. This question really surprised me and I thought how embarrassed I’d have been if I’d had to ask it. I replied though that I’d rather got out of the habit of analyzing myself and that I found it difficult to answer his question. I probably loved mother quite a lot, but that didn’t mean anything. To a certain extent all normal people sometimes wished their loved ones were dead. Here the lawyer interrupted me, looking very flustered. He made me promise not to say that at the hearing, or in front of the examining magistrate. But I explained to him that by nature my physical needs often distorted my feelings.
8. The Library exists ab aeterno. This truth, whose immediate corollary is the future eternity of the world, cannot be placed in doubt by any reasonable mind. Man, the imperfect librarian, may be the product of chance or of malevolent demiugi; the universe, with its elegant endowment of shelves of enigmatic volumes, of inexhaustible stairways for the traveler and latrines for the seated librarian, can only be the work of a god. To perceive the distance between the divine and the human, it is enough to compare these crude wavering symbols which my fallible hand scrawls on the cover of a book, with the organic letters inside: punctual, delicate, perfectly black, inimitably symmetrical.
9. First come the title and some names, blacked out on the film with a crayon so we can’t read them, and then I see my mother. My young mother, younger than I remember her, as young as she must have been once before I was born. She’s wearing the kind of outfit Aunt Lydia told us was typical of Unwomen in those days, overall jeans with a green and mauve plaid shirt underneath and sneakers on her feet; the sort of thing Moira once wore, the sort of thing I can remember wearing, long ago, myself. Her hair is tucked into a mauve kerchief tied behind her head. Her face is very young, very serious, very pretty. I’ve forgotten my mother was once as pretty and earnest as that. She’s in a group of other women, dressed in the same fashion; she’s holding a stick, no, it’s part of a banner, the handle. The camera pans up and we see the writing, in paint on what must have been a bedsheet: TAKE BACK THE NIGHT. This hasn’t been blacked out, even though we aren’t supposed to be reading. The women around me breathe in, there’s a stirring in the room, like wind over grass. Is this an oversight, have we gotten away with something? Or is this a thing we’re intended to see, to remind us of the old days of no safety?
10. During the three years since her marriage she had learned to make distinctions unknown to her girlish categories. She had found out that she had given herself to the exclusive and the dowdy when the future belonged to the showy and the promiscuous; that she was in the case of those who have cast in their lot with a fallen cause, or – to use an analogy more within her range – who have hired an opera-box on the wrong night. It was all confusing and exasperating. Apex ideals had been based on the myth of ‘old families’ ruling New York from a throne of Revolutionary tradition, with the new millionaires playing them feudal allegiance. But experience had long since prove the delusiveness of the simile. Mrs Marvell’s classification of the world into the visited and the unvisited was as obsolete as a medieval cosmogony. Some of those whom Washington Square left unvisited were the center of social systems far outside its ken, and as indifferent to its opinions as the constellations to the reckonings of the astronomers; and all these systems joyously revolved about their central sum of gold.
Leave me your answers either in the comments, or email me if you prefer at litlove1 at yahoo.co.uk. Hope you enjoyed the challenge! I’ll name a winner on Sunday.
Edited: Drawn to a close on Friday teatime (here in England at least) because of bloggerly brilliance. But play along for fun if you want to test your knowledge before reading the comments.