Tonight, however, Dickens struck him in a different light. Beneath the author’s sentimental pity for the weak and helpless, he could discern a revolting pleasure in cruelty and suffering, while the grotesque figures of the people in Cruikshank’s illustrations revealed too clearly the hideous distortions of their souls. What had seemed humorous now appeared diabolic and in disgust at these two favourites he turned to Walter Pater for the repose and dignity of a classic spirit.But presently he wondered if this spirit were not in itself of a marble quality, frigid and lifeless, contrary to the purpose of nature. ‘I have often thought’, he said to himself, ‘that there is something evil in the austere worship of beauty for its own sake.’ He had never thought so before, but he liked to think that this impulse of fancy was the result of mature consideration and with this satisfaction he composed himself for sleep. He woke two or three times in the night, an unusual occurrence, but he was glad of it, for each time he had been dreaming horribly of these blameless Victorian works…It turned out to be the Boy’s Gulliver’s Travels that Granny had given him and Dicky had at last to explain his rage with the devil who wrote it to show that men were worse than beasts and the human race a washout. A boy who never had good school reports had no right to be so morbidly sensitive as to penetrate to the underlying cynicism of Swift’s delightful fable and that moreover in the bright and carefully expurgated edition they bring out nowadays. Mr Corbett could not say he had ever noticed the cynicism himself, though he knew from the critical books it must be there and with some annoyance he advised his son to take out a nice bright modern boy’s adventure story that could not depress anybody. Mr Corbett soon found that he too was ‘off reading’. Every new book seemed to him weak, tasteless and insipid; while his old and familiar books were depressing or even, in some obscure way, disgusting. Authors must all be filthy-minded; they probably wrote what they dared not express in their lives. Stevenson had said that literature was a morbid secretion; he read Stevenson again to discover his peculiar morbidity and detected in his essays a self-pity masquerading as courage and in Treasure Island an invalid’s sickly attraction to brutality. This gave him a zest to find out what he disliked so much and his taste for reading revived as he explored with relish the hidden infirmities of minds that had been valued by fools as great and noble. He saw Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë as two unpleasant examples of spinsterhood; the one as a prying, sub-acid busybody in everyone else’s flirtations, the other as a raving, craving maenad seeking self-immolation on the altar of her frustrated passions. He compared Wordsworth’s love of nature to the monstrous egoism of an ancient bellwether, isolated from the flock.
Margaret Irwin
When he placed a candle on the shelf across the room from him and lit its wick, he came to realize that in fact everything he saw was a flat surface, like a screen – that in fact dimension was an illusion. Everything was a flat surface and the pinpoints of light, whether from a candle on the shelf or a gaslamp above the street, were punctures in that surface – gashes made by somebody behind the screen. He realized then that beyond everything he saw there was an entire realm of blazing sunfire and that colors were only the silhouettes of people in that realm – walking, eating, dancing, doing whatever they were doing behind the screen. It astonished Adolphe that everyone failed to realize they were just figures on a tapestry, the shadows of something else. He was therefore amused by the conceit of women, for instance, who who admired the creamy color of their skin when in fact it was only the haze of some other woman behind the vast screen staring into a mirror. Adolphe could explain all of this to himself but he could not explain Janine: Janine wasn't the same as the others. Janine was like their mother; and Adolphe decided Lulu was from this place beyond the surface and she had, perhaps when she was a little girl, slipped through. Adolphe wondered why Lulu hadn't told them about this and then realized she probably would when she thought they were old enough to understand it. He could see it wasn't something one would want to tell a child too soon.
Steve Erickson