The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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March 18, 2016

Henry (and Edith)-spotting!

      'And we consider you quite one of us, Mr. Tillingham,' said Lady Emily. 'I assure you I no longer even think of you as American.'
      'Mr. Tillingam is in great demand among the local hostesses,' said Agatha to Beatrice. He is quite pestered with invitations.'
      'I must be ruthless in declining or I would never dine by my own comfortable fireside,' said Mr. Tillingham. 'The public acknowledgement of one's literary contribution is of course gratifying, but the burden of reputation can be heavy at times.' ...
      'I know something of what you mean,' said Beatrice. 'My father was often asked to explain who he was and what kind of thing he wrote. He was always patient.' There was a polite pause, and Beatrice froze, realizing with horror that they thought she was referring to Mr. Tillingham's failure to recollect her father's name.
      'I, alas, am not as patient perhaps as your father,' said Mr. Tillingham and gave her a smile that eliminated any tension. Beatrice could have kissed him for his unexpected graciousness. 'I like to respond that I do not write for the Farmers' Almanac and so cannot dare to hope that the gentleman has read any of my meagre oeuvre.'
      'It is far more polite to admit that one doesn't read,' said Lady Emily. 'Who has the time? Of course we have all of Mr. Tillingham's works in our library.  I always give your latest volume pride of place next to my drawing room chair, Mr. Tillingham. I have a special gold bookmark with a Fortuny silk tassel.'
      'I am touched,' said Mr. Tillingham. ...

      'Perhaps Miss Nash also wishes to write a novel?' asked Hugh.
      'Miss Nash will be fully occupied by her vocation as a teacher and will have no interest in such frivolous pursuits,' said Lady Emily. Agatha Kent looked at Beatrice with an eyebrow raised in mute hope.
      'My teaching duties will be all my own concern,' said Beatrice, bitterly disappointed but resigned to the practical.
      'Thank the Lord,' said Mr. Tillingham. 'There is a great fashion for encouraging young women, especially American women, to think they can write, and I have received several slightly hysterical requests to read such charming manuscripts.'
      'And do you?' asked Daniel.
      'Goodness no. I would rather cut off my right hand,' said Mr. Tillingham. 'I delegated my secretary to compose her own diplomatic replies, and to consign the offending pages to the kitchen stove.'
      'I thought you were great friends with that American woman who insists on writing even though her position and fortune make it quite unnecessary,' said Lady Emily.
      'The lady of whom you speak is in a category by herself,' said Mr.Tillingham. 'She does possess a fastidious eye for the narrow milieu of which she writes and I cannot fault her competence nor argue with her considerable success.'
      'Plus she's very generous, I hear,' said Daniel. 'Doesn't she come down and take you out in her enormous motorcar?'
      'Daniel!' said his aunt.
      Mr. Tillingham waved his hand to indicate his lack of offense. 'I assure you, dear boy, that I am quite capable of accepting friends' generosity and still telling them exactly what I think of their art,' said Mr. Tillingham. 'Indeed I wish it were otherwise, for I have lost friends and chased away a great love or two in my time with what some of them described as my brutish candour.'  To Beatrice's great surprise, he pulled out an his large silk pocket square and dabbed at his eyes, which were filling with tears.

from The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson

{photos of Lamb House found here}


Terra said...

This sounds charming and then I saw the author's name; she is very talented. And how delightful they do not regard him as an American, says this American, smiling.

JoAnn said...

Aww, this sounds just lovely!

Karen K. said...

I don't normally like books with real historical characters, but I am intrigued. I had to check the publication date on this one -- the author's voice is so authentic to the period. And nice shout-out to Edith Wharton.

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