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Posts Tagged ‘Angus Trumble’

Well-Read Lovers; Constant Rejection

November 18, 2011 | by

This week we asked our friend Angus Trumble to give us the benefit of his wisdom—and received an embarras de richesses. Thanks to all for your questions and to Angus for his answers; there was none we could bear to cut. By day Angus is the senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center for British Art. By night, and sometimes also by day, he blogs on such topics as the euro crisis, the Ladies of Bethany, and his own globe-trotting adventures.

Dear Angus,
Do the best readers make the best lovers? Would you be more likely to break up with someone if they never read, or read all the time?

I am flattered that you feel I have the necessary qualifications to provide an accurate answer to this question. In my experience, the well-read can be excellent lovers, although there are times when a specific literary prompt may inhibit the natural flow, as for example when one’s partner genuinely believes himself to be some sort of Vronsky, when in fact he lacks the magnificent build, military bearing, disposable income, or even the remotest capacity to smolder. I can quite confidently say that it is unlikely that I would ever commence a relationship with a person who never read, which removes the need to break up with him. My parents’ marriage survived a period in the late fifties, when my mother read the complete works of Sir Walter Scott, evidently led in his direction by a genetically encoded taste for the lowering mist, gloomy crags, and bloodstained crofts and glens of the Highlands of Scotland. On the whole, therefore, I am for readers—although it is also true that I would immediately eject anyone whom I caught in bed with a romantic novel by the late Dame Barbara Cartland.

Have you ever had a story accepted for publication through a slush pile?

As a matter of fact I have, although it was a book review and not a story. My first long article for The Times Literary Supplement was entirely unsolicited and dealt with what struck me at the time as a wholly new and remarkable historical analysis of, of all things, the epidemiology of the Black Death. To my astonishment, in due course this offering propelled me onto the front cover, together with an enormously magnified photograph of a plague-carrying flea. So there is hope.

What should you do if you don’t like a book halfway through? How do you know when you should give it up?

For years, far too many years, I fell into the dangerous trap of being determined to finish a book despite having reached the conclusion half way through—or at the very least having become deeply suspicious—that in all probability this would not give me pleasure or profit. Yet essentially I am an optimist, and therefore, I suppose, when faced with undeniable evidence that a novel in which I am immersed is, for example, a bleak and depressing saga of frustrated sexual longing and entirely populated by characters of scarcely conceivable dullness, part of me hopes that twenty pages hence there awaits bright flashes of comic genius that may yet salvage the experience. Optimistic though I continue to be, from the vantage point of comfortable middle age I can now say that this is never true and that certainly the healthiest, most sensible, and efficient strategy is to abandon ship.

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Elusive Epigraphs; Travel Books

September 2, 2011 | by

Dear Mr. Stein, May I take advantage of the hospitality of your letters column to ask if you or your readers can help me to solve a small puzzle? I have come across an epigraph ascribed to Proust that heads the first chapter of Hamish Miles’s English translation of Édouard VII et son temps by André Maurois (King Edward and His Times, London: Cassell, 1933, p. 1). It reads: “Every social status has its own interest, and to the artist it can be just as compelling to show the ways of a Queen as the habits of a dressmaker. —Marcel Proust.” An excellent colleague of mine remarks that this certainly sounds genuine, and he even wondered if the aperçu came from the bit in Le Côté de Guermantes where Proust talks sniffily about grocers writing aristocratic novels, but I am afraid it is not there. Now we find that the epigraph is nowhere to be found in Maurois’s original French text, so the plot thickens. Much as I am tickled by the idea of an industrious and I daresay underappreciated translator recklessly concocting a spurious epigraph for the purpose of self-promotion, or worse, something tells me that there is an alternative explanation. So can anyone, do you think, identify these lines about “the ways of a Queen” and “the habits of a dressmaker,” and pin them on Proust? Thank you, Angus Trumble

We all hoped it was made up. But no. The epigraph comes from “An Historical Salon,” an essay—really, a celebrity profile—that Proust wrote for Le Figaro in late 1902. His subject is the Princesse Mathilde Bonaparte, a niece of Napoleon’s and the last Bonaparte to remain in Paris after the fall of the Second Empire. She was known for her literary salons, which included Mérimée, Flaubert, and the Goncourts. In the sentences you quote, Proust has just finished his you-are-there description of one of the princess’s soirées and he’s gearing up for the mini bio (which, in the case of Princesse Mathilde, is slightly delicate, since she left her first husband, a Russian tycoon, for another man, with the connivance of yet another uncle: Czar Nicholas I; it's good to know people).

As translated in F.W. Dupee’s edition of Pleasures and Days, the entire paragraph reads:

An artist will serve the truth only, and have no respect for rank. In his portrayals he will take rank into account as a principle of differentiation like nationality, race, or environment. All stations in society have their interest for an artist, and it is as exciting for him to picture the ways of a queen as the habits of a dressmaker. Read More »


Reader’s Guilt; Toadstools

April 8, 2011 | by

I always tell people that my favorite book is Infinite Jest, and even though I haven’t gotten halfway through it, it’s still the best half of a book that I have ever read! Do you have any guilt from unread books floating around?

Hmm. You mean books I’ve started that, if the title of one should happen to come up in conversation, I’d nod, implying—without ever explicitly stating—that I’d read the whole thing? I can think of one or two. The Man Without Qualities, The Magic MountainUlyssesBlood Meridian, Molloy, Jane Eyre, Being and Nothingness, Being and Time, American Pastoral, The Recognitions, Gravity’s RainbowV.Vanity FairThe Education of Henry Adams, The Beautiful and Damned, The Satanic Verses, Underworld, The World as Will and Representation, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Hopscotch, Tristram Shandy, The Long Goodbye, The Hobbit, ShikastaContemptScaramouche, Watership Down, The Three Musketeers, and William Faulkner (pretty much opera omnia) spring to mind.

Dear Mr. Stein,

I have lately searched in vain for the right collective noun for toadstools and, in the absence of any viable candidates, have opted for sect, e.g., “a sect of toadstools.” May I in good conscience proceed? I trust your judgment. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Angus Trumble

We are not prescriptivists, here at The Paris Review. Over the years our house usage has wobbled between OK and okay, et cetera and its abbreviation—even (in the old, hot-type days) between one typeface and another ... in the space of a single issue. If you want to call a bunch of fungus by your own private collective noun, who are we to say no? Go crazy with that! I only worry that the plural may cause confusion.

Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.


A Week in Culture: Angus Trumble, Curator, Part 2

July 29, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Trumble's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


5:30 A.M. I have been mining the poet, critic, journalist, playwright, sometime minor colonial official Richard Henry Horne (1802–1884). He was one of the most picturesque, occasionally lionized but accident-prone literary figures in Victorian Britain. According to his biographer Cyril Pearl, Horne “finished a wild and adventurous career as a rather pathetic, rather tiresome, very poor old man, living in two shabby rooms of a London apartment house, still determined, in his eighties, to be a distinguished man of letters. Forty year before, no one would have questioned his claim to the title. He had been extravagantly praised by Poe, who ranked him with Milton, and enthusiastically praised by Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, by Carlyle and G. H. Lewes, by Leigh Hunt and Douglass Jerrold, and many other of his contemporaries. Critics spoke of him in the same breath as Browning or Tennyson. He was, for many years, one of Elizabeth Barrett’s most valued friends; Dickens, with whom he worked, had a warm regard for him; he was the patron, almost the discoverer, of Meredith…No writer ever affirmed the dignity of literature more, or himself behaved with less dignity.” Quite so.

1:30 P.M. The reason for my present interest in “Hengist” or “Orion” Horne is that I think he was the conduit through which the term “art for art’s sake” migrated from the neighborhood of French criticism in the 1830s (when in England “l’art pour l’art” was generally treated with disdain) and crash-landed in the circle of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Rossetti et al. during the 1870s, thereby laying a sort of foundation of Aestheticism in British art and letters. Horne was obviously insane. In 1873 he entertained the idea of representing Her Brittanic Majesty as consul-general in Tokyo, and duly sent to Mr. Gladstone in Downing Street, and to the Meiji Emperor complimentary copies of his privately printed Ode to the Mikado of Japan. Even if your command of the English language is surefooted, the text is truly bonkers—so goodness knows what Emperor Mutsuhito made of it.

There was a Dome, like midnight

Lit up by blood-red lightning!

And deep within

A demon din,

With many a sight

Of ghastly horror whitening

Faces and Forms, e’en while the flames were brightening!

The screams of those wild massacres

Long echoed down the shuddering years;

And yet we know the self-same creed

For which those proselyting [sic] martyrs died,

Hath caused unnumbered victims thus to bleed

Before its symbols deified1!...

To cover against the possibility that it might just be good, the Emperor sent back two lavish volumes of Japanese poetry. An invitation to tea with His Imperial Majesty’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s was thrown in also. To His Excellency’s dismay Horne promptly accepted it. Read More »


  1. Horne seemed to feel that this evocation of the Japanese flag and the long imperial tradition of military prowess would come across as complimentary.