I’m reading Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Rebecca West at the moment. During her thirties i.e. not in her dotage, R.West wrote to a friend about

 ‘a theory I have long held that to authors … events present themselves according to their own style. They begin by inventing certain incidents …and then life says, “Oh, that is how he likes things to happen, is it? Well, then, they shall happen to him like that!”

This could be a flippant aside to amuse the receiver of the letter, but R. West was surprisingly superstitious. She was an extremely intelligent woman and an absolutely first-rate writer of criticism and political journalism but she seems, from the two biographies I’ve have read so far, to lack self-knowledge to an unusual degree. She felt that there was ‘something in myself to invite tragedy’ and she wasn’t talking about repeated patterns of behaviour that had unfortunate effects. She meant something more like a hex. That’s one way of ducking responsibility for what happens to you. And she was frightened by the ‘something in myself’ that made the men she desired reject her so she had psychoanalysis. Nothing so glamorous, I suspect, as some mysterious doom-laden aspect of her personality but something more banal. Men found her clever and intense, which for most damps the fuse. 

Anyway, I started to wonder if there could be a scintilla of truth in her suggestion about some supernatural factotum turning fiction into fact for writers just for a jape. Some self-interest here as I’d jolly well like to inhabit a world more like the ones in my novels. That’s a spur for writers obviously …to make a more acceptable world for themselves than the real one. I thought of Thomas Hardy who WAS rather depressed, of Dickens for whom things turned out well after many  vicissitudes and much drama, of Fielding who was handsome, witty and mischievous, always getting in scrapes like Tom Jones … well, the sad inescapable fact is that writers write about themselves, an idealised self, naturally, over and over again. They may disguise it by setting the book in Tibet or giving the hero red hair, ten lovers and a gammy leg but scrape off the surface and there is the demon Ego grinning up at you. Life and books. Fiction follows fact. Still, it was an attractive idea.

One Response to “Superstition”

  1. Melanie Barthelme said

    Hmmm. I wonder if there isn’t some aspect of imaginative world building in what everyone does as a child when they read books and stories. I read a great deal as a child, and the book worlds in my head were real to me and had just as much existence as the ones I saw around me, which were frustratingly incomplete, just bits and pieces without any thread to connect and explain things. Everyone grows up and stops doing this for the most part, except writers. Wonderful, really. Of course adult readers still do this, but there is a diminishment in the intensity of imagination or the intensity of belief in the world imagined that’s sad. I have to say that one of the reasons I treasure your books so much is that I am able to create an intense, thorough, (almost childlike) imagined world when I read them. I found this to be true particularly for Dance With Me and the last three, Clouds Amond the Stars, Moonstruck and A Girl’s Guide to Kissing Frogs. So, enormous anticipation regarding Stormy Weather, but also some worry, as I was counting on it to transport me, just as the others had done. Well, I have just finished reading it on my Kindle, which thanks to you I am now able to turn on, off, etc. The novel was exactly what I wanted and needed it to be, that is, stellar, so much so that I cried when it ended, which is not my usual practice. I am re-reading it now, savoring everything this time, taking my time, making it last.

    Thank you for writing. Thank you for bringing Conrad back in such a central role. He is a joy. I did find myself worrying about Siggy the rabbit, telling myself that he was with Marigold’s mother in Northumberland. I found myself Googling how long rabbits live. Pathetic. See what you’ve done? Please don’t stop writing. Ever. Am extemely curious about what you plan to write next.

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