In May I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, one of the classics you feel you know better for never having read.
It’s slighter and rougher than I expected. The star of the story turns out to be, not Dr Harry Jekyll and his alter ego, who are shades or bit players, but his lawyer, Mr Utterson, a man
lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.
A man whom at
friendly meetings, and when the wine was to his taste, something eminently human beaconed from his eye …
This is the key to Mr Utterson and the story: something eminently human up against something eminently inhuman. On both sides, inconsistencies, dualities; on one only, compassion.
And the lawyer set out homeward with a very heavy heart. ‘Poor Harry Jekyll … he was wild when he was young; a long while ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ay, it must be that; the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming, pede claudo*, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condoned the fault.’
* On halting foot
Also read this from Nabokov:
‘There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered, ‘ Nabokov said. ‘He may be considered as a storyteller, teacher, enchanter — but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.’
~ Quoted by Ian Sansom in The Guardian Weekly in his review of Amos Oz’s book, Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest.
In Oz, Sansom says, “the enchanter predominates.” In me, Nabokov would have said, “the enchanter predominates above all other enchanters.” Indeed, long before Nabokov became Nabokov – which is to say, progenitor of Lolita – he had written
a kind of pre-Lolita novella in the autumn of 1939 in Paris. (1)
The novella is called — what else? — The Enchanter.
Also in May, considered buying and reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. Picked it up, felt its massive 1000 pages and settled instead for its epigraph:
The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.
1. Excerpt from a letter of 6 February, 1959 from Nabokov to the publisher, G P Putnam’s Sons.