Dear Jon . . . (#20) Re: Reading, Time and Tide

‘The leader of the troop unlocked his word-hoard;
the distinguished one delivered his answer:’
Beowulf (trans Seamus Heaney)

Dear Jon,

It’s true, I talk a lot about re-reading. One of the reasons I prefer to buy a book than take it out from a library is because the thought occurs that I might want to re-read such a such a book. But it is more talk than action. I very rarely re-read books. This truth is documented. Records – those held in the Archives, walled up in a secret underground facility near Ultima Thule – suggest that the last book I actually re-read was Lawrence Durrell’s Tunc (1968) in April 2015. So not recently. Because, no, apparently 2015 isn’t recent anymore. Time flies.

And the problem is time, and how there isn’t enough of it. To re-read something, except for a very express purpose, seems a monumental extravagance and distraction. Apart from that, there is very much a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome with reading. And there are so many new things to read (Butor’s Mobile (1962), Lessing’s The Good Terrorist (1986), Wolfram Von Eshenbach’s Parzival (!?!?!), and so little time with which to read it. And there seems to be less time recently. My experience of time is very tied up with my mental health, which has been at a slight ebb recently. Time becomes far more elastic than normal. It becomes the enemy, rather than simply itself. It is both slow and fast. Time is slow because you are slow. Everything takes ages. I have been reading this book (Conversation in the Cathedral – which is great, actually) forever, or doing this washing up (is it really the same washing up?), or writing in this document, or cooking this meal, or tidying this room, or hoovering this floor, or planning this day (can it really be the same day?)   forever. Each task stretches itself through the hours. Each task is like a rough attempt to fulfil an earlier failed attempt. Each task is a pencilling in onto time – made with a 9H pencil. Faint, ineffective. Each task is an escape from another task that isn’t going so well, and while you assure yourself that there is a method in your madness, if there is, it is a method severely lacking (you tell yourself that before you can do x you must put together a theatrical production to establish the truth of y (wherin you’ll capture the conscience of the king) and by this point several acts of the play have passed, and so time is thoroughly out of joint). Time is fast because it passes fast. At the beginning of a day it imposes: before you are the hours you must fill with the slow tasks. At the end of the day it mocks: these were hours you filled with so little. Or even, what did you even do? And of course, with this an extensive literature, a Meforshim of criticism and scrutiny – entirely unconvinced and negative, written in dark ink, forming a blacker and blacker palimpsest. And so it goes, time after time. And so this blog post gets later and later, etc. And the to-do list buries me, and then itself. 

Usually, as you know, I try to account for my time. As you also know, I have never been especially good at it. My notes are frequently unfinished, imprecise, half-remembered. Time slips away, and out toward the end of an evening, the end of the week, the end of the month. Or indeed, recently, for me, the end of the year – my birthday being but a few days ago. I’ve been told that I have note everything I do down, rate it for achievement, for closeness to others, for enjoyment (each out of ten). I’ve been told to note down any negative thoughts, any negative feelings in the mind or the body, that occur during these doings. 

Two challenges (among many others) while writing: (1) the time that writing takes, and (2) knowing when something is done. A beautiful term from Ye Olde English is ‘word-hoard’ – a store of words, a vocabulary. A lot of writing is the creation of a word-hoard – something that has its own vocabulary, language, set of symbols. It’s a fashioning, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, and then going through commentaries from yourself and others and commenting on those comments, and then a reworking, a polishing, almost religiously until the whole thing tires, until the thing is dull for you, but shines (hopefully, hopefully) for others. You take time to make the thing is decipherable. You take the thing, and you bury it – that’s what you do with hoards. You bury them, and hope that it will be found and treasured by others. And this process takes time: the making, refining, the submitting, the waiting.

Walk around Leamington, as I did yesterday, and you’ll see – near the war memorial, and upon the slopes in the Jephson Gardens – that crocuses and snowdrops have put colour in among the green. Spring is coming to town. That which is buried is bursting into bloom. Near to me, St Mark’s chimes the hour, counting the time down to the resurrection of the dead. In Virginia Woolf’s The Waves (1931), the word ‘hoard’ is important – Jinny talks several times about breaking into her ‘hoard of life’. Jinny says how ‘Days and days are to come; winter days, summer days; we have scarcely broken into our hoard.’ Let the record show that I have 13 stories out, and that by the end of the week I hope this to get up to 15. Let the record show that the flowers are in bloom in Leamington. May the word-hoards be unlocked, and the locks themselves unscrewed from them, for both of us. 

This was on time (well, the post wasn’t, but you know). Maybe you do yours on space. Or not.

Yours in untimely fashion,



That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?

– T.S. Eliot 


Dear Jon . . . (#18) This is Not For You

Dear Jon,

Be gone buzz words. Buzz off buzz words. Bzzzzzzzt.

Let’s talk attitudes, because there’s another aspect to deal with. There’s one attitude which you talk about, I should read, listen to, look at x. One side of the groat there. The other side of the groat: but it’s not for me, it’s not for people like me, it’s for other people.

Popular culture is everywhere. It is played in supermarkets, it is on television, it is on the internet. It is essentially the default. Some of it is great, profound, timeless; much of it isn’t. Regardless, it is here, there, and also everywhere. Usually, though not always, to get something else (what might tediously be called high culture or whatever, that discussion isn’t for now) there needs to be a conscious choice. This is a problem because often that which is unfamiliar is other and therefore, by definition perhaps, not for the likes of me.

Which is a problem because then you can’t make the judgements: do I like it or dislike it or hate or love it or it makes me queasy or jubilant or moves me more than I can understand or scares me more than I understand or gives me peace that passeth understanding shantih shantih shantih . . . because you’re busy not being there to make aforesaid judgements.  

Because essentially you need exposure.

You need exposure. And the internet can be helpful for this, because the idle stream of consciousness way it works can lead to unexpected places. You may arrive at Schoenberg or a recommendation for a novel or a beautiful piece of art that you may want to go see in person. Or not. Because often the internet is a mirror; it only gives you want you are willing to give.

To get a proper grasp on the questions you issued (Why do I like/dislike it? What do I like about it? What is it making me feel? What thoughts is it giving me?) you need to exercise exercising your judgement. By which I mean doing loads of montages in which you’re lifting books like dumbbells while listening to music and looking at pictures. 

But one of the ways we get better at judging, indeed how we judge at all, is by making comparisons.

Essentially, you need repeated exposure. Like a cure to claustrophobia, it requires something akin to being driven around in the boot of a car doing loops of the Coventry ringroad (at some point, believe me, you will stop screaming). No wait, this is bad metaphor. This is the kind of exposure that may be traumatising.

A lot of early exposure is through school. This is a gamble, because often education is geared up not to provide an aesthetic education per se; it is education toward passing a test, toward nailing assessment objectives, toward whatever can be quantified. So, atlot of it relies on individual teachers. I was lucky; I had a lot of great teachers. I had a maths teacher who leant me The Chrysalids (or maybe The Midwich Cuckoos – it had telepathic children in it, dammit). It was a teacher that recommended Dostoyevsky and Proust to me. But I know that for loads of people what could have been a love for literature becomes a loathing. Picking up a copy of Great Expectations gives them flashbacks to whiteboards, to memorising quotations, to boredom inexpressible. 

One way, and its not a sure way, to get art into someone’s hands, eyes, heart, is simply passionate advocacy. Someone who can simply say: ‘This is for you. Here. Someone who will probably never know who you are made it for you.’ And giving their  judgement – why they loved it, how it made them feel, what obsessed them about it from the first day they read it to this –  in such a way that you can see the enthusiasm in their eyes, the animation on their face, in the stream of their voice. Essentially, someone who can give you the best case for whatever it is.

Now, of course, whatever it is – you may not like it, and that’s okay. But even getting the understanding of why someone else likes it, the appreciation of how that could be the case, I think is a plus good thing.

Or you may like it. You may love it. It may be your new favourite thing.

And I'd like to give you the opportunity to do that for the three people from Azerbaijan (or whoever it is that actually reads this blog). Advocate for something. Make us believe.




Dear Jim . . . (#17) Re: On Converting Philistines

I think reversing one’s position, or changing one’s mind – or in this case, maybe the idea of an ‘aesthetic education’ might be worth discussing. But I’ll leave you to flesh that out…” – Jim

Dear Jim,

In your last letter you gave me the broadest of briefs. To throw out a few thoughts on changing one’s mind or – you said, as if the two things were obviously linked – ‘aesthetic education’. I’ll deal with the latter because although less interesting to me it won’t spiral into a ramble. A tight 500 is the goal. This bletter needs sending today and I left it all until the final countdown.

For more Jon Pill related ramblings click here.

Dear Jon . . . (#16) Re: Crime and Punishment, Trials and Castles

Dear Jon, 

Being, shall we say, terminally unhip – I too had an angst canon, though the bulk of it came out of the late 1800s rather than the late 1900s. Specifically, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Crime and Punishment, Demons, The Brothers Karamazov. Yet, the connections with your canon are there, no? Instead of a murderous Manhattanite, there’s the axe-wielding Raskolnikov killing old women in St Petersburg. 

My adolescent mindset was less full of contempt, more fearful (Raskolnikov has both in spades). Very exercised and isolated by an unnamable romantic and sexual obsession. And further obsessed by the fantastical, whether that be in video game, novel, film. My first foray outside of that (excluding works set by the school curriculum) were works by Dostoyevsky and Sartre.

These are books, as you pointed out of your canon, that depict what might be called mentally ill characters. Certainly those in breakdown. Bit o’ the delirium tremens. But I think, at least in regards these characters, what drew me in wasn’t directly to do with those flashes of ‘madness’. What both Sartre and Dostoyevsky’s work did that gripped me was how they portray the drama of thinking. Thinking at its most extreme and intense. At some points, yeah, into breakdown. But they’re works wrestle with reality and religion in a direct, thrilling and frightening way. Perfect for the adolescent, because these questions have to be asked again and again by each new person of each new generation. It’s at this time, one hopes, that you’re doing the business of examining first principles. Why this, why that, why anything

I don’t have a religious background, barring the vague education, prayers and hymns that comes with attending a C of E school in south east England. In my family, God is a word that comes at the end of an exclamation, Heaven is the go-to place for the dead, and the go-to explanation of what death is should a child ask. It wasn’t that my family were atheists; they simply didn’t think about it.  In contrast, religion is rarely vague in Dostoyevsky; it is fervent, feverish. Thought itself is deeply felt. Ideas can break you and others. It can make you break others. And there was something deeply arresting about that: the back and forth of ideas, the exchange of views. Dostoyevsky takes ethical questions, turns them up to 11: if there is no immortality, isn’t everything permitted? what if you murdered someone? what if Christ came back? what if the Devil appeared to you?

Woolf puts it best when she writes in her essay “The Russian Point of View” that ‘the novels of Dostoyevsky are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and suck us in.’ Around this time, I studied Hamlet and I remember the appeal of that character; my own identification with him – all of them: these men, Raskolnikov, Roquentin, Ivan Fyodorvitch, Hamlet, these gyres of thought, oscillating one way, then the other. To be or not to be. Right? Not that suicide entered my adolescent mind, or would have even quite understood that thought, or felt the numb force of it. But these books are about thought that has consequences. About how thinking is dangerous. 

Dostoyevsky is essentially about the danger of ideas. Look what ideas make you do to your fellow man. How you reason your way out of religion and feeling. Now, he was also super conservative – deeply concerned about nihilism, liberalism, utilitarianism etc. But there is one thing he pinpoints in Raskolnikov that has its appeals to the adolescent (and not just in those years, for many) mind. The desire to be Napoleon – to be beyond good and evil, or rather for you to able to litigate what’s good and evil entirely off your own bat and for yourself. To be exceptional. How your decisions don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else’s. Like Gregory House, right? And that is dangerous.  

On feeling revisions or reversals: Crime and Punishment also had a slightly different hue when re-reading it a few years ago for my university degree: it was a fuck ton darker. The episodes with Svidrigailov, specifically his dreams with the very young girl who winks provocatively loomed way larger and scarier in my mind this time round. I think it slipped my mind or went over my head. 

One writer I’ve done a particular reevaluation of is Kafka – I recall attempting to read The Trial, oh a long time ago, and remember the creep of boredom sneaking in. I didn’t get it. There was that feeling that somehow my eyes weren’t tracking the words; that bad sign that either the book isn’t quite holding your attention, or your attention is being undercut by sleep deprivation/despair/hunger. I’m sorry to say, reader, I gave up. Which is a pretty rare occurrence for me (re: books anyway). And it’s not as if The Trial is on-the-surface difficult. But anyway, I returned to Kafka via The Castle only to find that actually he was great (of course), and entirely reversed my position.  

And I think reversing one’s position, or changing one’s mind – or in this case, maybe the idea of an ‘aesthetic education’ might be worth discussing. But I’ll leave you to flesh that out, and give it an initial direction. 

500 words on that. Go. 



Dear Jon . . . (#14) Re: On Waste Lands of Straight People

I had not thought death had undone so many.

-T.S. Eliot

Dear Jon,

Well, I hope you had a merry Christmas time. One way to address your question is to refer you to my very early reading this year in which I made a sally into the 1700s. I read Robinson Crusoe, I read Gulliver’s Travels, I read Tristram Shandy. And the last of these showed me clearly that the madcap and what might be called ‘the experimental’ is inherent to the canon. That cray was there, all the time. You can see why both Joyce and Woolf saw much in that book. So, I don’t think my view of the canon has changed. I think, in a way, every writer has their own canon. Every book even. They all have their chosen forebears. When I think canon, I often see big thick Victorian tomes, and often have the yearning to go back to them, these books that I was particularly drawn to when I was young. Works by Dickens, Hardy, Dostoyevsky. There are feasts to be had in these books, and I read them a long time ago, and actually I think re-reading them would bring a lot of pleasure, though I struggle to find time to do that these days. It’d be a valuable experience; was it Nabokov who said that all reading is re-reading? Really what my reading does, regardless, is make me want to read more. Now admittedly, these days, that’s more likely to be a 20th century modernist (though these are just as much canon these days, right?) than a hefty Victorian paperweight, but still I think the year to come will provide opportunities to encounter both. Talking of the new year, I’m assuming you’re roundabout now peeking over the fence and thinking about future reading? When you make lists, excluding for particular purposes, what are the criteria at work in your noggin? Or maybe a better way to say it would be: what are the instincts at work in your instinct place*? Or would it? You tell me. 

Also: to rewind slightly: One thought I had while considering this capacity that literature can have in expanding empathy, and imagination is that this not only applies to others, but also to oneself. Not to be egotistic, or effusive about the modern preoccupation for self love. I am talking about the ability to imagine oneself or see oneself in the culture in which you exist. Of course, we are told that the world is swarming with gay men. They are in every novel, every TV drama, every situation comedy, every advert. They are everywhere, all the time. Inescapable. It must be so difficult for the heterosexual to cope, and tiring for the homosexual – mirrored constantly in the culture everywhere he looks. Why this request for representation? The gays are everywhere (they aren’t). Why do I have to watch/read this? (you don’t). This request for representation is essentially about this ability to imagine oneself in the world. My memories, as a kid, of seeing myself in the world in this way are scant. Glancing. I never had the luxury of any other openly gay people in my family, or in my friendship group, or in my school as a whole. It was (forgive me) a waste land of straight people.  

My initial memories of seeing gay men in the culture, stepping around the question of porn, wasn’t actually through literature – to own a book with such people in it (people like myself, people who I might like like, people who might like like me) seemed unthinkable, strangely terrifying, too physical in some way. Actually these memories are watching Youtube. There’s an odd genre of Youtube video that’s simply young gay people sharing their coming out stories, even coming out to camera, or coming out on camera to unsuspecting parents. I remember watching these, over and over. The last of these, always to increased heartbeat, tensely folded hands.* 

Literature came to me after I came out. There was Forster, was Baldwin, was Burroughs, was Isherwood, was Gide, was Vidal, was Genet. The sentimental, the profound, the pornographic, the angry, the grieving – anything gay, anything man-on-man and boy meets boy. And these books are, because of when and where they were written, always simultaneously outsider books. Maybe there will always an outsider aspect to books that deal with life as lived by gay people. It’s this outsiderness I wanted to dwell on – in relation to you and the role fiction has played in your life, particularly around adolescence. These books (for you I’m thinking of American Psycho, The Beach) often engage with alienation, and I wondered if that seeing-yourself quality was something that maybe you could subscribe to? Is that something to do with empathy, even if it is a kind of self empathy or recognition? Or in these cases, even an empathy about a lack of empathy? 

Yours Almost New Yearly,


P.S. Come back from Guern-Land soon; Leamington is less fun and full without you.

*Not a euphemism. Why would it be? What?

*I really wanted to talk about Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature, the Reading Revolution and the expansion of empathy, and how maybe that's not quite happening in social media in the same way as it did with the advent of the printing press but I ran out of room and breath and words and coherent thoughts to put into words and also time I ran out of time which is a shame because I wanted to maybe think about that in relation to your earlier post and to what I said in my last post but there was no time and space to draw them together in such a way that was satisfactory or interesting and so I didn't which is shame as this post could have been interesting it could have been but wasn't as instead I wrote I had not thought death had undone so many, and went on from there. 

Dear Jim . . . (#13) Re: Fiction vs Non-Fiction

More from the Jon-meister: 

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”[…] In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments[…]” – The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your last bletter. Sorry this one is late, I blame everyone but myself.*

Dear Jon . . . (#12) Re: Imagining All the People

The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

– William Shakespeare

Dear Jon,

I think that I mostly agree with your thoughts there. There is a lot you say about how words can divide us. How they frustrate debate or inflame resentment. I wanted to engage with this by talking about how words can do the opposite – specifically in relation to the imagination. What you termed: thinking about Others complexly. The imagination is often a slave of the passions too – it can both be something that spurs us onto the better futures that we see for ourselves, or can twist the facts to create parallel universes (hence why currently so much of US politics feels like it has slipped into a Don DeLillo novel: Alex Ross has a great piece about that in the New Yorker worth reading).

Martha Nussbaum presents the imagination as central to democratic practice in her book Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010): ‘Every modern democracy is also a society in which people differ greatly along many parameters, including religion, ethnicity, wealth and class, physical impairment, gender, and sexuality, and in which all voters are making choices that have a major impact on the lives of people who differ from ourselves.’ The imagination, she posits, is the way into the lives of others that we have the responsibility of considering when casting a vote. It is part of what it is to be a citizen in a democracy. And one way to get into the lives of others is through words, through literature. It would be a mistake to either limit literature to this thing only, or to give it a special status, but it does have certain important particularities: you sit with it, and there’s something personal about you alone with the words on the page, you alone with the words said in your own voice inside the privacy of your head, and the length of time you might spend with those words.

I wanted to single out two examples of works that have done this for me. The first is poetry, actually. Claudia Rankine’s most recent book Citizen (2014) an assemblage of prose poetry, essay, pictures, that attempt to capture everyday racism, everyday slights and violence against people of colour in the US. The second person is used often: you are the one sitting on the train, or reeling after a careless remark, or after being pulled over by police. 

You, there. 

Hey you. 

This is what that’s like

I am not a black man or woman living in 21st century America, but I felt like I got a glimpse into what that might be like. I took a leap of imagination. I took a leap of faith, guided by Rankine. It’s visceral, thoughtful, felt. There’s a video that features her voice reading from Citizen here – worth checking out. I love her voice. The mesmerising intonation of it.

There is a glancing similarity in some of the poems to my own experience as a gay man. Another African American writer, Ralph Ellison wrote a novel called Invisible Man (1952)the title is a way of describing the experience of being African American the 1950s: ‘invisible . . . simply because people refuse to see me.’ To be gay is another kind of invisibility. If one is in a cafe, at the barbers, on the bus, there are conversations one overhears that might be about you, and they don’t know it’s about you. When young, there are conversations among one’s friends, one’s family, that happen and they are about you, but at no point do they realise that it is you they they are discussing. Their disgust or derision or amusement isn’t directed at you, but it strikes you anyway.

Another writer I wanted to namecheck was Doris Lessing. Her powers to punchily give a reality to the messy claustrophobia of a human mind – in the fragmentation of The Golden Notebook (1962), and the pressures felt on women at her time, and indeed now, in say Martha Quest (1952) makes for uncomfortable, complicated reading. 

I wanted to know: what works have done this to you? What works of fiction do you feel has taken your imagination and expanded it in this way? What words made you leap into places you previously didn’t know?

Yours imaginatively,


Dear Jim… (#11) Re: Only a Straight White Male Can Call A Straight White Male ‘Privileged’.

“Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions.” – Hume
Dear  Jim,
I sympathise with the many feelings in your previous letter – try some ginger tea, it could be that feeling of heartbreak at President-Elect Trump is just excess gas – but we’ve been doing a lot of political chat lately admittedly with the occasional foray into Thompson and Baldwin, but in the interest of segueing us back towards the writing which this blog pretends to be about, I thought I’d talk a little bit about language.

Jon's latest missive in full here.

Dear Jon . . . (#10) Re: And how do you feel about that?

Dear Jon,

Let’s begin with feelings. It is 2013, it’s the London Old Vic theatre. On the stage is Boss Finley, or rather, someone playing Boss Finley. Thomas J. Finley. He’s ranting; he’s depicted on a screen. He believes that the Voice of God has called him from the red clay hills to keep white blood pure. Nevertheless he believes himself the greatest friend to coloured people in the South. The recent castration of a young black gentleman is deplorable (he, of course, had nothing to do with it), but the passion is understandable, to protect that which is held sacred: the purity of white blood. A heckler has come forward, and asks a question about the daughter of Thomas J. Finley, about a trip she made to hospital. The heckler is struck. Thomas J. Finley says he will answer the question. Thomas J. Finley talks of an effigy that had been burned of him at the the great State University that he himself had built. Thomas J. Finley blames the Northern radical Press. The heckler is being beaten downstage. There is the shock of emotion with all the elements together: the demagogue shouting on the screen, his bigotry, the violence in among the tables, the boom of a storm, the acceleration to this unbearable pitch.

I sit in my seat, transfixed. I feel very helpless. 

The quadrangle of the college was burned, Thomas J. Finley declares, because of the Northern radical Press. But that was on Good Friday, Thomas J. Finley declares, and today is Easter. The heckler is being kicked, repeatedly. A woman is screaming, crying. That was Good Friday, Thomas J. Finley declares. By this point too, I am crying. Startled tears. Today is Easter, declares Thomas J. Finley, and I am in St Cloud. 

This is how many felt, I think, during the events of the last week and months. Except that afterward, I don’t just get to step out into the London night, and know that what I saw was just a fiction (a large sign above me reading: Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth), and that actors are changing in dressing rooms, and I can message you to say how great it was, how moving, how shocking. I don’t get to do that. We don’t get to do that. We are stuck in the theatre, and soon Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the President of the US of A, the big winner of this overlong reality TV contest. There is a particular phrase in a John Gray article in the New Statesman that struck me. He writes of liberals: ‘from being the vanguard of human progress, they find themselves powerless spectators of events.’ Whether the rest of the article holds muster, I’m not really sure, but this line spoke to my experience as someone who (broadly) would term themselves a liberal, someone of the Left.

Lionel Trilling, the literary critic, in his book The Liberal Imagination (1950) quotes J. S. Mill in saying that the prayer of a liberal should be ‘Lord, enlighten thou our enemies’ – by which he meant ‘the intellectual pressure which an opponent like Coleridge could exert would force liberals to examine their position for its weaknesses and complacencies.’ A good sentiment, but with one problem – what liberals face isn’t an intellectual pressure right now (though there are no doubt weaknesses, complacencies). These forces that appear about us, they ain’t no Coleridge. This rightward slide isn’t about policy, not really – Donald Trump, Farage, May (belatedly, haphazardly). No policies, despite claims to the contrary. They don’t have any ideas. They have no idea what they’re doing, as evidenced by the Brexit shambles, by Trump’s floundering transition. Brexit means Brexit, we are told. America will be made great, we are told. The how be damned. The slogans reign supreme. The soundbite reigns supreme. Their results, while surprising to many, were only won gripping on with fingertips. Leave had a slender majority in the Referendum, Donald Trump didn’t even have that in his election. This nightmarish debacle hasn’t been about ideas or facts, but about feelings.

Feelings like helplessness.

Feelings like anger. 

Feelings like despair.

Feelings like distrust.

Feelings like alienation.

Feelings like I just don’t feel in control.

Feelings like I just want to break everything.

Feelings like everything is shit, the banks are shit, the politicians are shit, the media is shit, the Elites are shit shit shit.

Feelings like I just don’t feel like I’m listened to. 

Feelings like don’t fucking patronise me.

Feelings like human rights and health and safety are the worst things to happen to this country.

Feelings like this country is going down the pan.

Feelings like I think those people should just go home.

Feelings like I just want to say what I feel.

Feelings like I can just say anything, what does it matter?

Feelings like I don’t like that woman, I just don’t like her, she's a nasty woman.

Feelings like I don’t think women should be with women like that.

Feelings like men dressed as women are going to rape my child.

Feelings like that black man is a loathsome creature.

Feelings like I think that man is gonna blow me up.

Feelings like two men kissing grosses me out.

Feelings like I miss being great.

Feelings like I don’t feel in control.

And so we where we are. And I don’t feel very in control. I feel very helpless. Or I should do, shouldn’t I? Increasingly, it is becoming clear that casting a vote in an election is not enough (though, guys it does help, it is needed). No vote I have ever cast in the seven years I have been able to has contributed toward a successful result. No council seat, no MP, no MEP, no referenda to speak of has had my vote to his or her or its name. Never, not once. Consider this feeling, however: the lack of feeling. Or rather, the exhaustibility of feeling. We are deluged with feeling, all the time. We see something on social media, and we’re angry, and share it and then get on with the day, as if this was enough, or as if anger wasn’t what the original poster wanted because that’s what gets shared. Maybe we sign a petition, and then forget about it. Maybe we forget. If we aren’t immediately effected, we forget. Life rolls on, the headlines roll on. We see something on social media, and we aren’t angry, and we roll our eyes. Or we grow despondent, we grow depressed, and don’t feel anymore.

You mentioned your, our, MP and a vote he made. But did you contact him about his vote beforehand? Does anyone? Do we make good use of our representatives by not making it clear what we would like to represent them on? This isn’t just a criticism of you, but of myself too. It is easy to feel once, and to act once, feel like you’ve vented, and then forget. Not for all, but for many. Most people are spectators to history. It happens, and we dissolve in the mob. Group feeling, group thought. The questions, it seems to me, in these times, for us as individuals is: how do we keep our feelings directed so we keep acting? And keep our feelings in control? And how do we act thoughtfully, as to be effective?

I look forward to your next missive on the subject of scholastic feasts and where to find them. 





Dear Jim… (#9) Re: Fear and Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’16

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

More from Jon here.

Dear Jon . . . (#8) Re: On Nowhere

One thing that is being brought to the fore, what with the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, the recent Brexit vote, the nationalistic surge in Europe, and the electoral inferno across the pond, is the question of nationhood. Particularly the question of the so-called greatness of a nation (Trump: America needs to be made great again; Clinton: America is already great; the Brexiteers: anyone who disagrees about the means and kind of Brexit is a traitorous lefty commie bad loser who doubts Britain’s manifest greatness).

So, I wanted to think a little about how artists relate to their nation – not exhaustively, because I’m tired, but you know vaguely and broadly, until it degenerates further in a mist of thoughts. Part of this relation has to do with a tradition, a national hoard that in Britain might have as its earliest acquisitions (literature-wise) in Beowulf and the Mabinogion. Of course, the problem with such a hoard being termed national is that nations and the places they occupy and the people that live there and the languages they speak are all super in flux. Furthermore, it’s suggestive that artists stick to their ‘own’ hoard – which they don’t. Artists read and borrow internationally. All the time. To take England as an example, Vaughan Williams, the most English of composers, gathered folksongs from across the country, but also drew in a French influence from Ravel. (Vaughan Williams actually had a lot to say about the idea of ‘the English Composer’ that I can’t go into here.) Vaughan Williams’ correlative in literature (roughly) might be Thomas Hardy, a novelist and poet of profound Englishness and locality – his work was criticised by early critics for being too French. And of course, people themselves have a genetic hoard that doesn’t respect national boundaries – my surname, according to one hypothesis comes via the French Huguenots. 

Despite these confusions, we can’t deny the strangeness of a sense of belonging (if this is the right word) – Vaughan Williams’ music feels English, Thomas Hardy’s novels feel English, I feel pretty haplessly English. 

I also feel pretty European, which is why I voted the way I did in The ReferendumTM, and part of why the result feels painful. But we haven’t left Europe they tell us – the island is exactly where it was yesterday: an archipelago that is part of the European continent. Though this is to misunderstand, perhaps, what it is to be a citizen (perhaps because there is a dislike of people becoming citizens), the joy that many have from becoming a citizen – and now of course, we will, in a few years time discover what it is to lose one’s citizenship.

One of the most striking and troubling comments of the last few weeks was that of the new Prime Minister Theresa May at Conservative Party Conference: ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.’ 

A citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere. The world is, naturally, nowhere in cosmic terms. Way out in the stellar sticks.   

Another way of saying nowhere is utopia. Nowhere is the ideal place William Morris writes about, in his News From Nowhere. There is a way in which May is right: people come from somewhere (sometimes complexly, but still somewhere.) But at the same time, her words are a divisive scapegoating tactic against those who feel European (in the context of the Referendum) and/or feel a broader connection with the world – those cosmopolitan urban liberals and traitors of the worst kind. What she doesn’t see or doesn’t care to say is that this nowhere is one to which we should aspire: a utopia in which we can broaden our empathies and sympathies. That doesn’t mean abandoning a kind of localism or love of the Near, but it does mean seeing that Near is relative, and those things that seem Far (whether in space or mind) aren’t wrong simply because they may be different. 

The truth is that I am a British writer (insofar as I can be called a writer), and a English writer too. Whatever that means. It means something nebulous, necessarily I think. It is to do with an atmosphere. A set of people who live in that atmosphere. We are marked in ways I don’t think we even know, the way an accent can be invisible or unheard by those who speak with it. I live, we live, in a town in the heart of England – there’s a tree that once was thought to mark the centre itself. There are old regency buildings, a bandstand more often smoked around than music played at, and roam to the north, or the west, and you will likely find the Avon, or to the east the Leam that runs into the Avon, and the Avon runs onward through Shakespeare’s hometown – somewhere very English indeed. And though, I accept that label of Britishness or Englishness – it isn’t defining or limiting. Being considered as one thing and one thing only – that is one of the faults of nationalism: that exclusionary logic. You are this, and not that. If you are this, you can’t be that. If you are English, you can’t be black, if you are gay you can’t be Christian or Muslim. It is the kind of logic that surfaces in other places and makes it so women writers are only compared with women writers, gay writers with gay writers, Scottish writers with Scottish writers – narrowing their field of action, tightening their horizons, and lassoing them. The kind of logic that says – as the xenophobic sticker we found stuck to a traffic light near where I live, here in the heart of England – stay back or we’ll kick you back

It is clear that England, along with many other places across the world, is suffering from heart trouble. Which makes it all the more important, perhaps, to say I am proud to be a British citizen, a European citizen, and a citizen of Nowhere.

I look forward to your letter that analyses extensively Ronald Firbank's somewhat neglected novel Vainglory (1915).

Yours from Nowhere,



Dear Jim… (#7) Re: We need to talk about We Need To Talk About Kevin

I got this. 

Dear Jim,
Although I did also receive your gracious letter, I thought it was particularly clever to use the stream-of-consciousness style and vague gesturing towards formal innovation to disguise the total lack of content while you complained about the rest of the internet’s lack of content.
In an effort to move these letters away from navel-gazing and hipsterish listicles complaining about listicles – because, you know, irony – I thought I’d just segue into talking about that advertisement for post-natal abortion we watched last-last week: We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Read more here.

Dear Jon . . . (#6) re: 9 Reasons Why the To-Do List Life is the Life

List, list, O, list!

-Hamlet's Ghost


Dear Jon,

I am much obliged to you for your post. This post comes to you in 9, yes, 9 parts. 



To Do List

Write blog post ( )

Read Murphy ( ) 

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )



I do not want to write a blog post. It is (figuratively) the last thing I want to do, and yet it is the first thing on my list. I do not know why I write this blog post. The web is clotted with the remnants of dead blogs. You’ve seen these, right? You’re scanning the pages of some blog on recipes or someone’s adventures in Europe to look at the date to see this hasn’t been updated in six months, three years, eight years. Often abandoned without explanations. Something IRL had dragged the writer away. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps forgetfulness. Maybe their IRL had suddenly ended, even.      

The internet is full of time wasting, cyberspace wasting rubbish. We all probably know the dreaded moment where you realise that you’re still looking at this person’s blog/twitterfeed/Facebook/Youtube nonsense. You end up scrolling down their feed: a blur of gifs, weird idle messages they’ve left, spats they’ve had. You trace the history of this spat. We know what someone has for dinner. We know their passing thoughts. They think aloud in an idle text that flashes up on a news feed somewhere. It’s like reading people’s minds, but with adverts. Which feels authentic. The mind-reading machines of the future will probably interrupt one’s attempt to glean the otherwise opaque desires of one’s other half/mother/co-worker/cat with ads for hair products, or business seminars, or more likely that chocolate bar that you’d spookily just been thinking about.

Why write this blog post? Why add to this moronic inferno of so-called content? Content that’s leaves me far from (wordplay alert, guyz) contented. This permanent ephemera. Why did I look at that listicleeven though I hate listicles and I did not want to read it, and got no satisfaction from it, and it ended up advertising something I would never buy? I do not want to write a blog post, I want to write my novel.



I do not want to write my novel. One of the struggles when one hits a wall during writing is the question: is what I’m doing worth doing? Is what I’m doing actually entirely trivial? Is the novel dead? In his interview with the Paris Review, Don DeLillo says the novel is very much alive and provides some names of novelists that he believes to bely the statement. He then stops, saying: ‘lists are a form of cultural hysteria.’ The challenge for the novel, he says, ‘We have a rich literature. But sometimes it’s a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music.’ 

Or, indeed, an internet listicle.

 I do not want to write a blog post.

 I do not want to write my novel. 

 I want to read Murphy.



To Do List

Write blog post (Half of)

Make tea (X)

Read Murphy ( ) 

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )



I do not want to read Murphy. I want to read something else on my list. I want to read Henry Green’s Pack my Bag, or Perec’s Life: a User’s Manuel, or Banville’s The Book of Evidence, or Clare Tomalin’s Thomas Hardy: A Time-Torn Man, or The Town by Faulkner. I want to read whatever I’m not reading now.

During sixth form, I made a list of books to read. I asked teachers to look over it and add to it (my marvellous psychology teacher said: ‘I think you should add more women’ so I did).

I’d scour the net looking for best one hundred novels, attempting to put together something wide-ranging, something that could map out for me what might be called the classics. Miraculously, I found a copy of the list I complied. I had to do an internet search of sent emails, and stumbled across it: it was an attachment to an email I sent in 2007. There’s Paradise Lost and Bleak House. There’s Twenty Thousand Under the Sea and North and South. There’s Dracula and Good Morning Midnight. There’s Ulysses and Moby Dick. It was a way of mapping and ordering the world.



Examine a list of 100 best novels on the web. Read the comments of how x, y, z, wasn’t included, how could this claim to be a top hundred anything, was the person on acid when they wrote this list? Why no Tolkien?!? What Amis but no Rushdie? Gatsby is terrible. Why are all these books so old? Why no Peake? I hate Norman Mailer. What no Durrell? I personally couldn’t get on with Charlotte Brontë. Why no Henry Green? Life of Pi bored the living daylights out of me. I couldn’t get through Ulysses. Why is Salinger on this?! Without Pynchon this list isn’t worth shit. A novel should tell a story. Where are the women? I couldn’t get through On Chisel Beach. William Golding gives me hives. Dracula is a bit shit tbh. Where is Achebe? Virginia Woolf scares me. David Mitchell is so pretentious. Ballard is overrated IMHO. I hate Living. Why no Ayn Rand?

Oh dear god.

Kill me.

Kill me now.



To Do List

Write blog post (Half of, and a bit)

Complain to boyfriend on Facebook about writing blog post (X)

Make tea (X) (X) (X)

Stare out of window (X)

Spot the Larry the plant while staring out the window, and water this plant (X)

Think of more internet comments to add to 6. (X)

Research Karin Rehnqvist (X)

Breathe (X) ( ) ( ) ( ) ( )

Read Murphy ( )

Read Pack My Bag ( )

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )

Wonder: are lists ‘a form of cultural hysteria'? ( ) 



This has all put me in mind of David Lang’s piece reason to believe (2011) in which the libretto is made up of internet search results which begin with the phrase ‘and I will make it’ set to a very stark Pärtian soundscape.

(8. a. I’m thinking very much of something like Pärt’s super gorgeous plus portentous Litany (1994), which is based on a prayer – also: can we talk about the wonderful line at the climax of the piece: Oh lord, shelter me from certain men, from demons and passions, and from any other unbecoming thing (I love the possible slippage of language in certain, as in a) particular or b) to be without doubt. Double also: isn’t it really time we brought back the phrase ‘unbecoming’ into general chatter?)

reason to believe differs from Part in the way that it is more relentless, more incessant. There is a growing hysteria as the piece builds. It is a genuinely moving work, primarily in the way to combines the banal (And I will make it a lot more clear with use of images), the absurd (And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog), and the intimate (And I will make it just for you). As Lang writes in the program notes: ‘I wanted to make a piece about the inner thought process of a person who is not sure how, or why, to live.’



To Do List

Write blog post (X)

Complain to boyfriend on Facebook about writing blog post (X)

Make tea (X) (X) (X)

Stare out of window (X)

Spot the Larry the Plant while staring out the window, and water this plant (X)

Think of more internet comments to add to 6. (X) (X)

Research Karin Rehnqvist (X)

Breathe (X) (X) (X) ( ) ( )

Read Murphy ( )

Read Pack My Bag ( )

Keep editing the novel ( )

Write reading list for next novel ( )

Wonder: are lists ‘a form of cultural hysteria'? (X)

Wonder: are to-do lists sometimes unhelpful in the way they make one obsess over productivity as a means of measuring success (X)


Yours (now listing)



Dear Jon . . . (#4) re: On Being Ill

“Novels, one would have thought, would have been devoted to influenza; epic poems to typhoid; odes to pneumonia; lyrics to tooth-ache.” 

– Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill


Dear Jon, 

So, recently, as you know, I’ve been ill. And as such haven’t really been working much at all. So, on reading your letter I wondered – when do we chose the times when we don’t turn the page? When do we let our fingers hover over the keyboard, and then draw them back? When should we choose to rest rather than wrench yet another sentence from our befuddled minds? 

Part of the problem is attempting to be objective about when to plough on, and when to stop – as lined out in your post, the sirens of temptation sing loudly, and discipline is about ignoring them. However, there must be a line at which we should step away from the work, and say stop right now, thank you very much.

Some of this is about consciousness re: the work at hand. Amis is damn right when he talks about stepping back for a moment, and going to do something else: not slamming one’s face endlessly against a wall of words. 

Some of this is about mental health (or is it wellbeing?), and physical health (or is that wellbeing?) and knowing when enough is enough: Bro, go home. And when you are home, don’t do the same thing you do at work: stare into a screen and play on your phone. The interesting and moving Andrew Sullivan essay you sent me about devices and connection is pertinent here, and I may address this in a later missive.

Health has infected the news somewhat over the last few days since the announcement of Hilary Clinton’s pneumonia (why, says Woolf, are there no odes to pneumonia?). Clinton tweeted: ‘Like anyone who’s ever been home sick from work, I’m just anxious to get back out there. See you on the trail soon’ which certainly sounds like one of the most stereotypical US of A sentences ever. See that moronic Cadillac ad that did the rounds a few years back. Now, I admit, I have been wanting to get back to the writing grindstone (novels don’t edit themselves, and apparently, nor do short stories). And it’s also to be admitted that I was very anxious for HRC to get back on the trail, as she has the job of plugging the new alternative dimension that Trump is attempting to open up: an update of Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America (2004) – don’t think it couldn’t happen, because it totally can: the stars are in conjunction, and it could totally be like that moment in Hercules – except instead of Zeus, Zeus, Zeus the Titans are shouting Hilary, Obama, Muslims, Mexicans. Clinton needs to get out there and defeat the likes of Dee Jay Trump, Gary And-What-Is-Aleppo? Johnson, and Dr Joan Who–now Stern. 

But plugging nightmarish alternate histories aside, it should be remembered, perhaps, that people should have more sick days, or strictly more rest days: more days off full stop. As James Baldwin puts it very simply, (and in a more agonising context):

Time is not money:
Time is time. 

The question should be: how much work is needed by a society to work? Maybe the more important question: how much rest is needed? There seem to be studies (I haven’t checked them out though, so . . . you know) that suggest shorter working hours is the way to go for the sake of, well, everyone’s health.

So stop . . . 

Stop . . . 

Now get back to work.

Yours steadily recovering,



Dear Jim . . . (#3) re: Thousand Page Journeys

Jon's reply:

Dear Jim,
Thank you for your letter of last week. I know that The Gift (1938) feeling – or as it is known in my own head-brain: the A Dead Man in Deptford (1993) feeling – that frustrating feeling that you are always reading, have always been reading, and will always read a book which despite all that reading past, future and present does not ever seem to end.



Dear Jon . . . (#2) re: Gifts

Dear Jon,

Thank you for your letter that isn’t a letter. This is clearly going to be the basis for a thrilling epistolary novel; Pamela here we come. So, your post (you’re sehr welcome BTW) sent me on a series of thoughts on gifts, or gifting. These are thoughts that, I think, I have expressed to you before. Thoughts about what a gift (on birthdays, at yuletide) is, or at least can be. Personal relationships (of whatever vaguely intimate kind) can quite easily become transparent, part of the background noise of day-to-day life. A friendship is often made up of a series of ordinary things: it may be meeting at a bus stop each day before school, an exchange of how-are-yous of a morning, the making of mugs of tea. This isn’t all of it (there’s the 2:00am phone calls, the shoulders to weep over etc, etc), but is certainly part of it. However, we can easily get caught in the web of obligations, answers, rejoinders, emails, and pigeon attacks of ordinary life, and the ties that bind us become transparent; we don’t see them, and we forget to pay our thanks for them. A gift is a chance to bring such ties to the fore, to make the invisible opaque: a concentrated gesture in which we get to check in with a friendship, and pay attention to what about it is important. 

It’s this kind of move that’s often an aspect of what some literature does. The novel I’m reading currently is Vladimir Nabokov’s The Gift (1938), (which was, in turn, a gift from another friend). What’s particularly striking is Nabokov’s passion for ordinary detail, his insistence on wringing dazzling poetry out of each and every particular: 

‘Every morning just after eight he was guided out of his slumber by the same sound behind the thin wall, two feet from his temple. It was the clean, round-bottomed ring of a tumbler; after which the landlord’s daughter cleared her throat. Then came the spasmodic trk-trk of a revolving cylinder, then the sound of flushed water, choking, groaning, and abruptly ceasing, then the bizarre internal whine of a bath tap that finally turned into the rustle of a shower.’

The novel details (I use that word advisedly) the life of a young poet, Fyodor, in 1920s Berlin. The attention to detail extended to Fyodor’s work too: the opening chapter gives us fragments of his poetry – which are all on childhood memories, with titles like ‘The Lost Ball’. I was reading fast (several books during last week, they flickered past like planets with me zooming at warp speed), but now all has slowed, after entering the dense cloud (nebulaic, perhaps) of Nabokov’s prose. It is both exhaustive, and exhausting. It’s what Kingsley means about Mart’s style, when he says there’s ‘a high idiosyncratic noise level in the writing.’ It’s lucky that we don’t live aware of that amount of detail, that would be exhausting, a proper ka-blammo overload. If we didn’t filter out some of the noise, we’d be these vulnerable, tenderised creatures crazed out, stress-stacked, and muttering to ourselves about the price of soup (as our brains steadily liquidise). 

Such writing gives us the space to be ponderous; it gives us back what we lose in order to live.

But giving itself, is a kind of exposure – when a writer offers up pages of their hard-wrought writing, or when someone is giving us a clumsily-wrapped book-shaped item (dear god, will they like it?) they make themselves vulnerable. It tells us something about the giver, even if it isn’t always clear what. But once gifts are given, it is forever. Control has been given over. To go back to your post, I doubt that Eliot intended, perhaps would have actively disapproved of (that is not what he meant at all), a man pacing up and down, up and down, in a freezing lounge in November (evening encroaching), reading himself into the words:

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land—

And, of course: 

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

He did not write these words to comfort a closeted-but-soon-to-be-uncloseted gay man, but his gift is there nonetheless. And Eliot, out of all the writers I could name, is someone whose position on the political spectrum is perhaps one of the easier to disagree with, for both you and me. But even those who feel closer to politically can challenge us in this way. Christopher Isherwood is rampantly anti-semitic in his diaries, despite positing himself as the camera that saw the rise of the Nazis in Berlin. You mention Bloomsbury, but even Virginia Woolf herself had a complicated attitude, and certainly a haughtiness, about Jews; at the same time she married Leonard Woolf, himself Jewish, and wrote of him movingly: ‘my Jew has more religion in one toe nail – more human love, in one hair.’ She had a complicated feelings about male gayness too, associating it with a kind of transparency or paleness; in her diary in 1925, she remarks: ‘the pale star of the Bugger has been in the ascendant too long’, though some of her closest friends (Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, Duncan Grant) were of my tribe, and in other places (The Waves, The Years, Between the Acts) she portrays gay men with sensitivity. Aldous Huxley doesn’t especially portray his gay characters with sensitivity, but had a stronger homophobic streak, despite his friendship with Isherwood. 

But it’s probs cray to have this kind of box ticking attitude. Expecting everyone we read and meet to be quietly passionate clear-eyed self-righteous enlightened liberal Remainer (also skilled at baking, sex and gardening, with a penchant for reading novels in the original French) is a mistake. But you know that, natch. Maybe the best guide on this is Eliot himself, using some of his remarks in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919). He notes of the poet (who is male, of course) 'it is not his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing.’

I wanted to end with one of the greatest artists of vulnerability: Jimmy Baldwin, of course. He penned a poem called “The giver (for Berdis)” in his collection Jimmy’s Blues (1983): it is complicated, mysterious, and above all, moving. It ends:

I cannot tell how much I owe.

Yours sincerely, 


Dear Jim… (#1) re: T. S. Eliot

Some tedious person seems to have got hold of my address . . . 

Dear Jim,
After I moved to Leamington, and the process of unpacking began in earnest, one of the things I found in amongst the flotsam was an old postcard you sent me with T. S. Eliot and your gal Virginia on the front. There is something interesting about seeing those two together, missing only Joyce in order to complete the meld into some sort of Modernist super-Transformer. It is particularly interesting in the context of a card from you to me: my favourite writer sat beside yours, and interesting knowing there was genuine warmth between them, despite Eliot’s general distrust and dislike of womankind.

(. . .