I hope you caught the Book of the Week on radio 4 this morning: if you didn’t there’s still time, and four more episodes to go of this latest biography of my guru Leonard Cohen:
It didn’t tell me too much I didn’t know in terms of fact, but the interpretation sounds interesting: I heard the author being interviewed the other day and saying he didn’t think Cohen was a poet or even a singer or musician, as much as he was a prophet. That is exactly how I think of him, and although I don’t write like him he is in many ways an inspiration and the father of my art.
I’m willing to bet Cohen never wrote limericks; it seems utterly unlike him, somehow – but there are times when I can’t stop myself writing them, and another lot came today, this time on the theme of Too Much Satire in TV. It’s a bit rough as yet, but it begins:
TV can be fun but it’s ballotted
no sooner done than it’s parodied
it gets a bit wearing
when nothing is sparing,
but instantly caught and dead-parrotted.
Hm. The rhymes for that one gave me a lot of trouble. Anyway, before I got into all that I was thinking once again about E F Benson, having been reminded of him by reading Proust. Now when people think Proust they think memory; they think time; they think madeleines dunked into coffee; they think going to bed early. But that’s only the starting-point for Marcel; he spends a lot of time dissecting social mores and figuring out why people behave as they do. And it’s in his description of the petty-bourgeois couple, the Verdurins, who run a salon – of sorts – and pretend that anyone they can’t invite to it is in fact ‘a bore’ whom they wouldn’t want anyway – that I find E F Benson. This is his milieu, for all that it takes place in Tilling (Rye) and not in France; and in the 1930’s instead of the 1890’s. His characters are petty, self-obsessed, materialistic and mean; they are extremely unattractive, and yet somehow, by making us amused and drawing us into the circle, he makes us like them and even care about them.
Now, I don’t want to stereotype; but this could have been because he was gay. He wasn’t ‘out’, obviously, because no-one was – unless one of their enemies had sent incriminating photographs to the police – but he never married and some of his earlier novels are thought to be homoerotic. I couldn’t possibly comment… however the gossipy intimate tone of the ‘Mapp and Lucia’ series does seem to set off a kind of gaydar. (Sits back and waits for hostile comments to arrive….)