A Genius for a Friend

It’s great to have a genius for a friend; it guarantees often exhilarating conversations. 

I am currently reading Stendhal’s The Red and the Black. It’s a French novel, written in 1830. It’s the bildungsroman or coming-of-age story of Julien Sorrel, a young man who is carried through French society by a combination of ambition, talent and skilful social manoeuvring. I haven’t read the entire book yet, but so far, it reminds of a lot of Madame Bovary. 

I said this to Rodney and I don’t think he liked it much. Le Rouge et Le Noir is pre-Bovary, and Mr Hall seems to think Red far better all round. It reminds me of Madame B. not only because of its setting, but also because it is an immensely readable third-person novel which immerses you exclusively in the psyche of its protagonist.

I’m not sure how Rodney and I got onto the subject, but somehow, we started talking about Pride and Prejudice. This is one of the rags that he and I like to fight over like a couple of dogs. While we both agree that it’s a brilliantly written book, I think it is an over-inflated flight of romantic fancy loved by the kind of desiccated twits who like to set the agenda for what they believe ‘literature’ should be; beautiful prose about sexless, boring, stultifyingly polite people to whom the characters of a Jean Genet or Bret Easton Ellis are as remote as creatures from outer space. 

What I do think is that Jane Austen puts Oscar Wilde in the shade as far as wit is concerned. If you could choose a referee in the war of the sexes, you’d want it to be Jane A. My first response after reading P&P (which I loved) was, “Every teen-age  boy should be made to read this. It explains exactly what’s wrong with them!” 

While we were talking about this, Rodney said that he believed the thing Jane Austen figured out, and was probably the first novelist to do so, is that readers really enjoy watching characters get things wrong. Readers love to know more than the characters do and then watch them labour under mistaken assumptions.

And there it was; the casual observation lying there for me to pick up, like a lost one hundred dollar note strolling along the footpath in the wind.   

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One Response to “A Genius for a Friend”

  1. More than a $100 note – this is a key to the vault

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