Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in the morning

Javier Marías has written a book of brief literary lives, Written Lives, now published in English in a translation by Margaret Jull Costa.

The one on Lampedusa, if typical, makes me want more. Here is how he describes this indolent aristocrat's normal morning.

While Licy, his Latvian psychoanalyst wife, recovered in bed from the hours which, by her own choosing, she spent working late into the night, Lampedusa would get up early and walk to a café-cum-patisserie where he would take a long breakfast and read. On one occasion, he did not move for four hours, the time it took him to read a large novel by Balzac, from start to finish. Then he would undertake his long tour of the bookshops, after which he would go to another café, where he would sit but not mix with a few acquaintances of his with semi-intellectual pretensions. He would listen to "their nonsense" and hardly say a word, and then, after all these marathon sittings and feeble peregrinations, return home on the bus. He is always described as walking wearily along, looking very distinguished, but with a somewhat careless gait, his eyes alert, holding in his hand a leather bag crammed with the books and cakes and biscuits on which he would have to survive until evening, since lunch was never served at home. He carried that famous bag with great nonchalance, quite unconcerned that volumes of Proust were sitting cheek by jowl with titbits and even courgettes. Apparently the bag always contained more books than were strictly necessary, as if it were the luggage of a reader setting off on a long journey, who was afraid he might run out of reading matter while away.
He was however armed against whatever perils he might face as he wandered.
According to his wife, he always had some Shakespeare with him, so that "he could console himself with it if he should see something disagreeable" on his wanderings.
No children. No job. No responsibilities. Where does the time go?
"I am a very solitary person. Out of the sixteen hours I spend awake each day, at least ten are spent in solitude. I do not, however, spend all that time reading; sometimes I amuse myself by concocting literary theories..."
About his one published novel, The Leopard, he said, "It is, I fear, rubbish". It isn't.

(via The Middle Stage)

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