02 August 2011


"No one reads Trollope now," Mrs. Ballinger interrupted impatiently.
Mrs. Roby looked pained. "I'm only just beginning," she confessed.
"And does he interest you?" Mrs. Plinth inquired.
"He amuses me."
No one reads Trollope now. I mean, if there's something I can say to Edith Wharton about the state of "now", it's that there is so no one who reads Trollope now, compared to then, when she'd written this masterful short story called Xingu. But what is Xingu anyway? That's part of the joke that she tells.
"Amusement," said Mrs. Plinth sententiously, "is hardly what I look for in my choice of books."
"Oh, certainly, 'The Wings of Death' is not amusing," ventured Mrs. Leveret, whose manner of putting forth an opinion was like that of an obliging salesman with a variety of other styles to submit if his first selection does not suit.
"Was it meant to be?" enquired Mrs. Plinth, who was fond of asking questions that she permitted no one but herself to answer. "Assuredly not."
And the joke that she tells is a joke that still works today. I smiled, I gathered my eyebrows, I laughed, I blushed—all at the same time—at the thought of a Lunch Club, and at the thought of the not-so-remote possibility that, if I were a woman, if I were living in the first two decades of the twentieth century, I'd be part of something so pretentious and terrible.
"Assuredly not—that is what I was going to say," assented Mrs. Leveret, hastily rolling up her opinion and reaching for another. "It was meant toto elevate."
Miss Van Vluyck adjusted her spectacles as though they were the black cap of condemnation. "I hardly see," she interposed, "how a book steeped in the bitterest pessimism can be said to elevate, however much it may instruct."
As it turns out, of course, I find myself situated between the first two decades of the twenty-first century—which, really, would be the perfect time to raise my eyebrows and turn my nose up at things like Twitter, Facebook, postmodern literature, bromance and chick flicks, that sort of stuff, that sort of gimmick. But I do enjoy that sort of gimmick.

True, after a healthy dose of Wharton's shorts, I am now reading J.M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year (pretty heavy stuff, both for dilettantes and intellectuals), but I have also already ouched at several people's assumptions that I take myself "way too seriously".
"I meant, of course, to instruct," said Mrs. Leveret, flurried by the unexpected distinction between two terms which she had supposed to be synonymous. Mrs. Leveret's enjoyment of the Lunch Club was frequently marred by such surprises; and not knowing her own value to the other ladies as a mirror for their mental complacency she was sometimes troubled by a doubt of her worthiness to join in their debates. It was only the fact of having a dull sister who thought her clever that saved her from a sense of hopeless inferiority.
So I've taken pains—or, come to think of it, taken none at all—to do Ms. Roby things like wear 3D glasses to see Avatar, stay up at night to catch TMZ, listen to Bruno Mars instead of Rufus Wainwright, and choose Evelyn Waugh over Anthony Trollope because the latter, in my opinion, is, you guessed it, more amusing.

Why have you got to be so harsh? I'm enjoying myself.

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