In 1911, Egon Schiele painted a self-portrait of himself as Eros – in his left hand a terrific, salmon-pink erection, somewhat (I imagine) larger than life. Height 56cm, width 32cm, the gouache used to belong to Victor Lownes, the erstwhile Editor of Mayfair. I don’t think Schiele is painting what Ted Hughes, in a letter to his painter brother Gerald, disparagingly calls “transfers”: “any fool can become a mirror if he practise hard”. Schiele’s gouache is not mimesis. It is frank subjectivity. That is how erections feel – larger than life. That is why men like them. They enlarge us.And another mini-anthology of favorite moments:
Let me begin with Ted Hughes’s erections – with a commendably indiscreet moment in this commendably discreet selection of his letters, tactfully chosen and scrupulously, unostentatiously annotated by Christopher Reid, formerly Hughes’s editor at Faber & Faber, as I had been before him.
Regularly, if not as frequently as you might expect, you encounter delightful touches: on Fortnum and Mason’s, “deep carpets, sturgeon’s tongues, bowing uniformed attendants, cassowary brains in melon syrup”. This is Frieda learning to speak: “issuing a stream of Japanese, with the beginnings of translation – app-uh, for apple, ooo-en, for open . . .”. The famous are brought before us: “Neruda – he read torrentially for about 25 minutes off a piece of paper about 3" by 4". Then he turned it over, & read on”. T. S. Eliot: “His smile is like that of a person recovering from some serious operation . . . . Eliot isn’t at all unguarded in his remarks. He has huge thick hands – unexpected”.