Sunday, February 21, 2010

Living on paper

At the Observer, Adam Mars-Jones on Iris Murdoch's wartime diaries:
[A]nything that can go wrong with the book editorially has done so. A single sentence can contain an erroneous correction ("Ruisdael" is an accepted spelling of the painter's name) and an uncorrected error ("Ruben's"). A better title might have been Living on Paper, a phrase Murdoch uses when her dealings with David go back to being epistolary after an interlude in the flesh. In 1945, they decided to marry, but David had second thoughts, broke off with Iris and rapidly married someone less complicated.

The reason he gave, in the 1946 letter which closes the book, was partly that she was "formidable" – "You used to write that you wanted to be subdued, but I couldn't picture it somehow." There's some corroboration of this in a phrase of Murdoch's which has either escaped the editor's attention altogether or been garbled by a spell-checking demon. She refers to David as having "nine leaves" in his hair. Shouldn't this actually be "vine leaves"? The phrase is famously applied by Hedda Gabler, an intense, restless woman with a destructive streak a mile wide, to a weak man she mistakenly thinks is capable of behaving heroically. So perhaps the jilting Mr Hicks, who was happy in his second marriage, if not his first, was doing the right thing.
Also: Arthur Koestler always wore a hairnet in bed. (That one's also a morality piece about the inadvisability of signing an advance contract for a book that's not yet written!)

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