Sunday, 13 August 2006

Patrick White seems to be out of favour with Christopher Pearson, a columnist for The Australian.

I suppose it's unnecessary to be unduly concerned by this, given the often right-wing stance held by the newspaper. But he wrote such a good column for this weekend's Inquirer section that I wonder if I'm missing something.

The column charts the history of his attraction to the written word, from earliest times. As a primary-school pupil, Pearson recounts, he all at once, one day, got the idea of writing, as he told an interrogator about his abiding interest in books and reading:

My mind raced back to a rainy afternoon in Bellevue Hill primary school in Sydney in 1956, with the smell of wet asphalt drifting into the classroom. The teacher had just joined up show cards — with a C, an O and a final W and a picture of a cow — and the penny dropped.

It was a short time later that he started reading The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

About the time of this first brush with the canon, there were a few other, more temperate encounters. I recall hearing one of my great-grandmothers and an aunt reciting by heart tracts of the Oxford Book of Ballads, getting a first taste of The Magic Pudding and Gulliver's Travels, and being given a bound volume of instalments of one of Charles Dickens's magazines called Household Words. Owning something that is more than 100 years old at the age of eight is a great stimulus to the imagination.

Later, in his teens, he encountered Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Trollope and the poets: Shakespeare, Marvell, Donne, Herbert, Marlowe, Hopkins and Eliot. "An only child with well-read parents, I soon realised that curling up with a book was the most exciting kind of companionable silence." "On first reading the novels of Patrick White at 16, it seemed to me as though the two (sacred and profane love and a countervailing sexual ambivalence) had converged, almost for the first time apart from Brideshead Revisited, in a way that wasn't louche or self-indulgent." This is all very straightforward reminiscence of good times had with a book in his hands. The problem comes, as in any good column, in the final paragraph:

But while I don't rate White as highly as before, no longer see him as any kind of role model and can seldom bring myself to reread his books, I don't begrudge the years spent immersed in them. It was a bracing, intellectually demanding encounter. They taught me a good deal about the vagaries of human nature and much else besides. The best of them, from Voss to The Eye of the Storm, often ran fiercely counter to the prevailing Zeitgeist until, nearing his dotage, the spirit of the age began to enthral White and exacted a terrible, exemplary revenge.

I wonder what he means? Any ideas?


Nathan Miller said...

Hope I haven't lost you as a viewer over a Bicycle Sidewalk...
I am sure you have noticed the transformation of content and editing...however I have a feeling things will soon head in a new direction over the next few weeks/months...
Anyhow, I really miss your intelligent and insightful comments. Will get some Japan footage in due time! Hope to hear from you soon!!

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