Sunday, August 31, 2008

TWO chocolate ice creams

Adam Mars-Jones has a thoughtful piece at the Observer on the problem with publishing Dirk Bogarde's letters, and I cannot resist pasting in these paragraphs:
Dirk Bogarde's books were painstakingly shaped and rewritten. Writing letters functioned as a sort of five-finger exercise for him, but they were exercises mainly in the key of G: gush and grumble. The English moan is a complex phenomenon. Well-off expatriates moan about little things ('I refuse to pay five francs 50 for a small root of impatiens'; 'We cannot really afford to have [meat] more than once a week') because things are so nearly as they want them, or because they don't want to discuss their real worries, or for superstitious reasons. If you stop grumbling, the gods may suddenly notice how fortunate you are and take steps.

Letter writing was part of Dirk Bogarde's life-support system, but what part, exactly? Perhaps it had a sort of renal function, clearing the blood of toxins. Many of these letters express the negatives of his virtues, such as a reflex of ungraciousness after generous hospitality, written when the washing-up was a stronger memory than the meal (which Forwood cooked anyway). 'A huge, really big, leek-pie, which Dick had two helpings of, TWO chocolate ice creams with nuts and cream walloped on top, half a round of cheese, lots of bread and butter, figs from the garden and TWO bananas from the greengrocer!' If that's what happens when you invite your dear neighbour Dickie Attenborough to dinner, either don't ask him again or don't expect leftovers next time.

Another guest, the British consul's wife, may have thought she was making things easy for her host by drinking only hot water, but no ('A bit tiresome topping up her cup all afternoon ... ').


  1. I'm always taken aback when people look back to a time when people wrote letters as a distant past unimaginable to modern man: surely with e-mail rather a lot of people are back up to the rate of correspondence of the Victorians? The fact that one can get a reply instantly leads to voluminous correspondence very rapidly.

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