Saturday 3 December 2016


Two lists of names. No prizes for recognising either source:

Marion Duncan, Walter Falter, Ted Fantasia, Stella Flashman, Irving Fox, George Glave, Mabel Goodale, Donald Green, Lucinda Hamilton, Mary Rose Haze, Dolores Honeck, Rosaline Knight, Kenneth McCoo, Virginia McCrystal, Vivian McFate, Aubrey Miranda [.]

In addition to all these I can remember that Faustina O'Brien came there at least once and the Baedeker girls and young Brewer who had his nose shot off in the war and Mr. Albrucksburger and Miss Haag, his fiancée, and Ardita Fitz-Peters, and Mr. P. Jewett, once head of the American Legion, and Miss Claudia Hip

The first comes from Lolita; the second from The Great Gatsby.

Humbert Humbert's dreamy recollecttion of the boys and girls in Dolores Haze's class lends each of them a shadowy literary afterlife as potential Lolitas. They are unrealised shades. Lolita herself appears in the list as a spectral presence as the last name of Mary Rose Haze and the first of Dolores Honeck, but the other names, while suggestive, are never too suggestive. Ted Fantasia and Vivian McFate are intriguing, but neither of them has ever prompted a novel. 

J. G. Ballard once wrote: "The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality." This view is nothing new. The fictitious writer X. Trapnel in Hearing Secret Harmonies, the last volume in Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, rehearses the same paradox in virtually the same phrases:

People think that because a novel's invented it isn't true. Exactly the reverse is the case. Because a novel's invented, it's true. Biography and memoirs can never be wholly true since they can't include every conceivable circumstance of what happened. The novel can do that …

Trapnel was based on the real-life Soho writer Julian Maclaren-Ross, and we may reasonably infer that Trapnel's view is close to that of Powell\s own take on literature. That the author writes the world into being is a familiar observation.

More from Gatsby:

From farther out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O. R. P. Schraeders and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia and the Fishguards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs. Ulysses Swett's automobile ran over his right hand. The Dancies came too and S. B. Whitebait, who was well over sixty, and Maurice A. Flink and the Hammerheads and Beluga the tobacco importer and Beluga's girls.

Nick Carraway, recalling some of Jay Gatsby's guests in Long Neck, seems to fish them out of memory's acquarium. Like the Lolita class register, each of these names is a never-to-be-written novel-in-waiting.

I'm half in love with such minor, walk-on parts, each less than a cough and a spit. A particular  favourite is Teddy Lemon in Barbara Pym's Excellent Women:

“Well”, hesitates Mildred, remembering Teddy Lemon, our Master of Ceremonies, with his rough curly hair and anxious face, and his troop of well-drilled, tough-looking little boys, “they are very nice good boys, but perhaps you should go to a Kensington church if you want to see glamorous acolytes.”

But to return to lists. The heartbreaking end to Fitgerald's novel has Gatsby's befuddled father showing Nick Carraway a piece of paper - what he knows of his unknowable, now dead, son.

He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see. On the last fly-leaf was printed the word SCHEDULE, and the date September 12th, 1906. And underneath:

Rise from bed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6.00       A.M.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling . . . . . . 6.15-6.30   "
Study electricity, etc . . . . . . . . . . . . 7.15-8.15   "
Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.30-4.30  P.M.
Baseball and sports . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4.30-5.00   "
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00   "
Study needed inventions . . . . . . . . . . .  7.00-9.00   "

                GENERAL RESOLVES

No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable]
No more smokeing or chewing
Bath every other day
Read one improving book or magazine per week
Save $5.00 [crossed out] $3.00 per week
Be better to parents

What we would now call a 'to do' list (and nowadays there's likely to be an app for that). It appears as a found object, a fragment from outside the fiction, and is all the more moving for that. All the more life-like. Or like life.

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