All Thought-Up

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dear Maud,

They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.

Well, not quite. Last week I played host to a testing virus, which kept me at home. My, how the time flu!

How did entertain my guest? Artfully, of course. First, we followed Huck Finn down the Mississippi, bemused by the rich perversity of the folk we met, and amused by the antics of Tom Sawyer, whose approach to the rescue of Jim, the runaway slave, is ‘regular’ but ridiculous.

if he [Tom] only could see his way to it we would keep it up all the rest of our lives and leave Jim to our children to get out… that way it could be strung out to as much as eighty years, and would be the best time on record

Dog my cat! (As Jim himself would say.)

My virus and I then polished off Frederic Raphael’s imperfect gem, The Glittering Prizes, in which Adam Morris attempts to interview (or ‘beard’) old Stephen Taylor, an architect and former fascist – with disquieting consequences.

You know the truth… [Taylor scoffs] You don’t need experience; you don’t need effort and energy and trial and error… Truth is work, truth is apprenticeship, truth is pain and effort and dirt and sweat and blood as well… There’s city truth and there’s country truth… Thought-up truth and lived truth. You’re all thought-up, Mr Morris, dreamed-up, worked-up, souped-up…

How dare he talk to me like that! Fortunately, I’m not the only object of his scorn.

What use is anyone going to have for stone and wood and silence and idols that man should really have? Genius measured by the hour, cures for death and sentences for life, that’s the society that wants to build a mausoleum to embalm the truth and slap a plastic condom on the spirit of man. That’s the society you condone; not mass murder – mass misery, mass tedium, mass impotence, mass lifelessness. You’re welcome to it.

Pure gold, you’ll agree.

One other character has me pegged, Maud, that of Dan. At Cambridge, he becomes fed up with the fatted calf, and throws up his promising career as an actor. ‘I want to lead a very dull life,’ he says. ‘The dullest possible.’


He marries and takes to teaching; tucking himself away in the country, he reads Milton and Shakespeare at night, and hunts ducks he won’t shoot.

One day, a rich and profane friend darkens his door, and Dan is revealed as the deluded and manipulative ‘monster’ he is. Alas, Maud, his renunciation of the world has brought him no closer to God, only to ‘playing God’.

Naturally, this sobering thought led me and my bug straight to the Temple – Paul Temple, in fact. That rusty old radio show is memorable for one thing: its hero’s over-exercised exclamation.

By Timothy, it was too much for my contagion, which, by Timothy, duly expired.

Yours etc.