Artificial honesty, and weak as water when temptation comes

From Mark Twain’s The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg. This one was written late in Twain’s life – 1899 when he was nearing 65 – and is possibly a satire against his home country’s pretensions.

“Oh, I know it, I know it—it’s been one everlasting training and training and training in honesty—honesty shielded, from the very cradle, against every possible temptation, and so it’s artificial honesty, and weak as water when temptation comes, as we have seen this night. God knows I never had shade nor shadow of a doubt of my petrified and indestructible honesty until now—and now, under the very first big and real temptation, I—Edward, it is my belief that this town’s honesty is as rotten as mine is; as rotten as yours. It is a mean town, a hard, stingy town, and hasn’t a virtue in the world but this honesty it is so celebrated for and so conceited about; and so help me, I do believe that if ever the day comes that its honesty falls under great temptation, its grand reputation will go to ruin like a house of cards.

Ares, the moneychanger of bodies

From Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (432-444). The first translation is Alan Sommerstein’s from the new Loeb Aeschylus, the second is Eduard Fraenkel’s from his full edition of the play (the Greek is Sommerstein’s). I’m always partial to Fraenkel since I’ve spent a lot of time with his commentary but his choice to render in prose usually costs him popularity. At bottom are some flavor bits of his commentary for this section – since his edition is long out of print and now unfairly priced.

There is much, at any rate, that strikes deep into the soul:
one knows the men one sent off,
but instead of human beings
urns and ashes arrive back
at each man’s home.
Ares, the moneychanger of bodies,
holding his scales in the battle of spears,
sends back from Ilium to their dear ones
heavy dust that has been through the fire,
to be sadly wept over,
filling easily-stowed urns
with ash given in exchange for men.


There is much, at any rate, that touches the very heart: those whom they sent they know, but instead of the men urns and ashes come back to each one’s home.

The gold-changer Ares, changer of bodies, and holder of his scales in the battle of the spear, sends from Ilion to the kinsmen what has felt the fire, heavy gold-dust bitterly bewailed, freighting the easily-stowed urns with ashes in exchange for men.


πολλὰ γοῦν θιγγάνει πρὸς ἧπαρ·
οὓς μὲν γάρ <τις> ἔπεμψεν
οἶδεν, ἀντὶ δὲ φωτῶν
τεύχη καὶ σποδὸς εἰς ἑκάσ-
του δόμους ἀφικνεῖται.
ὁ χρυσαμοιβὸς δ᾿ Ἄρης σωμάτων
καὶ ταλαντοῦχος ἐν μάχᾳ δορὸς
πυρωθὲν ἐξ Ἰλίου
φίλοισι πέμπει βαρὺ
ψῆγμα δυσδάκρυτον, ἀν-
τήνορος σποδοῦ γεμί-
ζων λέβητας εὐθέτους.

435 τεύχη [ instead of the men urns and ashes come back] : it is tempting to take this as meaning the armour, especially as this Homeric use of the word occurs not only in Sophocles and Euripides, but in Aeschylus, too …

437ff. … It is characteristic of Aeschylus that in order to heighten the effect of terrible happenings he does not borrow his imagery from the realm of the unreal and the fantastic, as many romantic poets do, but from the familiar processes of everyday life or the peaceful incidents in nature: while he depicts with minute exactness little details innocent enough in themselves (e.g. in this passage ταλαντοῦχος, ψῆγμα, γεμίζων λέβητας), he gives them at the same time a metaphorical relation to terrible powers, and it is just this contrast that intensifies the horror.

441 βαρὺ ψῆγμα : nothing, I am afraid, can be done to help those fanatics of logic who would remove or at least suspect this magnificent oxymoron …

I didn’t put that Arri in there

From A Day in a Medieval City by Chaira Frugoni:

One day in Florence Dante had left the house after eating, and while passing through Porta San Pietro, came upon “a smith who was beating iron on the anvil and singing Dante the way one sings a popular poem, and mixing his verses up, shortening some and lengthening others, so that it seemed to Dante that he was receiving a great injury from the fellow.” Without a word Dante went into the man’s workshop and threw his tongs, his hammer, his balances, and all his other implements into the street. When the smith remonstrated loudly at finding himself stripped of the tools of his trade and blocked from exercising his own special skill, the poet replied, “‘You are singing from my work, but not the way I wrote it; I have no other art, and you are ruining it for me.’ The irate smith, at a loss for words, gathered up his things and went back to his work; and after that, when he wanted to sing, he sang of Tristan and Lancelot, and left Dante alone.”
….
On another occasion we meet the poet in Florence wearing a full suit of armor – which we might think unusual, but which was actually not out of place in the dangerous streets of the city: “And wearing armor to protect his throat and his arm, as people then customarily did,” the poet saw a donkey driver transporting garbage, “who was going along behind the donkeys singing the book of Dante, and when he had sung for a bit, he hit the donkey and said ‘Arri (Giddyup).’ Dante accosted him and dealt him a forceful blow on the shoulder with his mailed fist, saying, ‘I didn’t put that Arri in there.'” A lively dispute ensured, with bad language and obscene gestures on the part of the donkey driver, and insulting remarks on the part of Dante.

Both stories cite another book for origin, Franco Sacchetti’s Il Trecentonovelle (pgs 299-302).

Like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write

From Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life (pg 174 – originally L’invention du quotidien vol. 1, though I only have the translation at hand):

Far from being writers – founders of their own place, heirs of the peasants of earlier ages no working on the soil of language, diggers of wells and builders of houses – readers are travellers; they move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write, despoiling the wealth of Egypt to enjoy it themselves. Writing accumulates, stocks up, resists time by the establishment of a place and multiplies its production through the expansionism of reproduction. Reading takes no measures against the erosion of time (one forgets oneself and also forgets), it does not keep what it acquires, or it does so poorly, and each of the places through which it passes is a repetition of the lost paradise.

The point is to lose and laugh

From Rose Macaulay’s The Lee Shore:

“But all the same,” said Peter, suddenly aggrieved, “you might be pleasant to your own cousin, even if he is in a motor. Why be proud?”

He was really a little vexed that Rodney should look with aloofness on Urquhart. For him Urquhart embodied the brilliance of life, its splendidness and beauty and joy. Rodney, with his fanatical tilting at prosperity, would, Peter half consciously knew, have to see Urquhart unhorsed and stripped bare before he would take much notice of him.

“Too many things,” said Rodney, indistinctly over his thick pipe. “That’s all.”

Peter, irritated, said, “The old story. The more things the better; why not? You’d be happy on a desert island full of horrid naked savages. You think you’re civilised, but you’re really the most primitive person I know.”

Rodney said he was glad; he liked to be primitive, and added, “But you’re wrong, of course. The naked savages would like anything they could get—beads or feathers or top hats; they’re not natural ascetics; the simple life is enforced…. St. Francis took off all his clothes in the Piazza and began his new career without any.”

“Disgusting,” murmured Peter.

“That,” said Rodney, “is what people like Denis should do. They need to unload, strip bare, to find themselves, to find life.”

“Denis,” said Peter, “is the most alive person I know, as it happens. He’s found life without needing to take his clothes off—so he scores over St. Francis.”

Denis had rushed through the twilight vivid like a flame—he had lit it for a moment and left it grey. Peter knew that.

“But he hasn’t,” Rodney maintained, “got the key of the thing. If he did take his clothes off, it would be a toss-up whether he found more life or lost what he’s got. That’s all wrong, don’t you see. That’s what ails all these delightful, prosperous people. They’re swimming with life-belts.”

“You’ll be saying next,” said Peter, disgusted, “that you admire Savonarola and his bonfire.”

“I do, of course. But he’d only got hold of half of it—half the gospel of the empty-handed. The point is to lose and laugh.” For a moment Rodney had a vision of Peter standing bare-headed in the dust and smiling. “To drop all the trappings and still find life jolly—just because it is life, not because of what it brings. That’s what St. Francis did. That’s where Italy scores over England. I remember at Lerici the beggars laughing on the shore, with a little maccaroni to last them the day. There was a man all done up in bandages, hopping about on crutches and grinning. Smashed to bits, and his bones sticking out of his skin for hunger, but there was the sun and the sea and the game he was playing with dice, and he looked as if he was saying, ‘Nihil habentes, omnia possidentes; isn’t it a jolly day?’ When Denis says that, I shall begin to have hopes for him. At present he thinks it’s a jolly day because he’s got money to throw about and a hundred and one games to play at and friends to play them with, and everything his own way, and a new motor….

The whole service is a kind of precautionary exorcism of the terrors of the night

From Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence – an edited compilation of letters he wrote in the 1950s while staying in retreat at a few monasteries. This is from his time at the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Wandrille. The translations are mine so no blame attaches to Fermor.

Compline, the office that finishes the monastic day, belongs more than any of them to the world of the mediæval church. Only one lamp is lighted, enough for the monk who reads aloud from the Rule of St. Benedict or the Imitation of Christ. “Fratres,” a monk intones, “sobrii estote et vigilate, quia adversarius vester diabolus tanquam leo rugiens circuit quærens quem devoret: cui resistite fortes in fide! [Brothers, be even-minded and watchful since your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, circles about seeking whom he may devour]” The faces of the seated monks are hidden in their hoods, their heads are bowed; and they themselves are only just discernible under the accumulation of shadows. The solitary voice reading aloud seems to issue from an inner silence even greater than the silence that surrounds them. The reading comes to an end; the single light is extinguished; and the chanted psalms follow one another in total darkness. The whole service is a kind of precautionary exorcism of the terrors of the night, a warding-off of the powers of darkness, each word throwing up a barrier or shooting home a bolt against the prowling regions of the Evil One. “Scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi,” the voices sing; “et sub pennis ejus sperabis.” [With his shoulders he will protect you and under his wings you will have hope]

“Scuto circumdabit te veritas ejus; non timebis a timore nocturno,

“A sagitta volante in die, a negotio perambulante in tenebris, ab incursu et daemonio meridiano.”

[as a shield his truth will surround you; you will not fear the night’s terror, the day’s flying arrow, trouble roving in the shadows, assault, and the noontide demon.]

One by one the keys turn in the wards, the portcullises fall, the invisible drawbridges touch the battlements…

Procul recedant somnia
Et noctium phantasmata.
Hostemque nostrum comprime
Ne polluantur corpora.


[Let dreams withdraw far off
and nighttime’s phantoms.
Restrain our enemy
So our bodies not be made unclean.]

The windows are barred against the lurking incubus, the pre-eighth-century iambic dimeters seal up any remaining loophole against the invasion of the hovering succubi. Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor, lavabis me et super nivem dealbabor [Sprinkle me, lord, with holy water and I will be cleansed, wash me and I will be white beyond snow] . After a long, silent prayer, the monks were roused by a soft tap from the Abbot, and the rustle of their habits as they left the church was the last human sound, until, again in pitch darkness, they reassembled at four o’clock for Matins.

Daemonio meridiano I’ve taken here as ‘noontide demon’ to connect it to accedia. There’s a truly worthwhile book on the history of this idea in European culture as it passes from its monastic origins to a secular/psychological sense – Reinhard Kuhn’s The Demon of Noontide: Ennui in Western Literature.

We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.

This week’s earlier post of Paul Laurence Dunbar has today moved in two directions – more research into the poet’s work (ongoing) and more research into corn pone. The latter somehow morphed into Mark Twain’s brief essay ‘Corn-Pone Opinions’ which is now given below:

FIFTY YEARS AGO, when I was a boy of fifteen and helping to inhabit a Missourian village on the banks of the Mississippi, I had a friend whose society was very dear to me because I was forbidden by my mother to partake of it. He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man -a slave -who daily preached sermons from the top of his master’s woodpile, with me for sole audience. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village, and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from. But it did not happen; in the distribution of rewards he was overlooked. It is the way, in this world.

He interrupted his preaching, now and then, to saw a stick of wood; but the sawing was a pretense -he did it with his mouth; exactly imitating the sound the bucksaw makes in shrieking its way through the wood. But it served its purpose; it kept his master from coming out to see how the work was getting along. I listened to the sermons from the open window of a lumber room at the back of the house. One of his texts was this:

“You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.”

I can never forget it. It was deeply impressed upon me. By my mother. Not upon my memory, but elsewhere. She had slipped in upon me while I was absorbed and not watching. The black philosopher’s idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter. If he would prosper, he must train with the majority; in matters of large moment, like politics and religion, he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors, or suffer damage in his social standing and in his business prosperities. He must restrict himself to corn-pone opinions — at least on the surface. He must get his opinions from other people; he must reason out none for himself; he must have no first-hand views.

I think Jerry was right, in the main, but I think he did not go far enough.

It was his idea that a man conforms to the majority view of his locality by calculation and intention. This happens, but I think it is not the rule.
It was his idea that there is such a thing as a first-hand opinion; an original opinion; an opinion which is coldly reasoned out in a man’s head, by a searching analysis of the facts involved, with the heart unconsulted, and the jury room closed against outside influences. It may be that such an opinion has been born somewhere, at some time or other, but I suppose it got away before they could catch it and stuff it and put it in the museum.
I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any other matter that is projected into the field of our notice and interest, is a most rare thing — if it has indeed ever existed.

A new thing in costume appears — the flaring hoopskirt, for example — and the passers-by are shocked, and the irreverent laugh. Six months later everybody is reconciled; the fashion has established itself; it is admired, now, and no one laughs. Public opinion resented it before, public opinion accepts it now, and is happy in it. Why? Was the resentment reasoned out? Was the acceptance reasoned out? No. The instinct that moves to conformity did the work. It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist. What is its seat? The inborn requirement of self-approval. We all have to bow to that; there are no exceptions. Even the woman who refuses from first to last to wear the hoop skirt comes under that law and is its slave; she could not wear the skirt and have her own approval; and that she must have, she cannot help herself. But as a rule our self-approval has its source in but one place and not elsewhere — the approval of other people. A person of vast consequences can introduce any kind of novelty in dress and the general world will presently adopt it — moved to do it, in the first place, by the natural instinct to passively yield to that vague something recognized as authority, and in the second place by the human instinct to train with the multitude and have its approval. An empress introduced the hoopskirt, and we know the result. A nobody introduced the bloomer, and we know the result. If Eve should come again, in her ripe renown, and reintroduce her quaint styles — well, we know what would happen. And we should be cruelly embarrassed, along at first.

The hoopskirt runs its course and disappears. Nobody reasons about it. One woman abandons the fashion; her neighbor notices this and follows her lead; this influences the next woman; and so on and so on, and presently the skirt has vanished out of the world, no one knows how nor why, nor cares, for that matter. It will come again, by and by and in due course will go again.

Twenty-five years ago, in England, six or eight wine glasses stood grouped by each person’s plate at a dinner party, and they were used, not left idle and empty; to-day there are but three or four in the group, and the average guest sparingly uses about two of them. We have not adopted this new fashion yet, but we shall do it presently. We shall not think it out; we shall merely conform, and let it go at that. We get our notions and habits and opinions from outside influences; we do not have to study them out.

Our table manners, and company manners, and street manners change from time to time, but the changes are not reasoned out; we merely notice and conform. We are creatures of outside influences; as a rule we do not think, we only imitate. We cannot invent standards that will stick; what we mistake for standards are only fashions, and perishable. We may continue to admire them, but we drop the use of them. We notice this in literature. Shakespeare is a standard, and fifty years ago we used to write tragedies which we couldn’t tell from — from somebody else’s; but we don’t do it any more, now. Our prose standard, three quarters of a century ago, was ornate and diffuse; some authority or other changed it in the direction of compactness and simplicity, and conformity followed, without argument. The historical novel starts up suddenly, and sweeps the land. Everybody writes one, and the nation is glad. We had historical novels before; but nobody read them, and the rest of us conformed — without reasoning it out. We are conforming in the other way, now, because it is another case of everybody.

The outside influences are always pouring in upon us, and we are always obeying their orders and accepting their verdicts. The Smiths like the new play; the Joneses go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict. Morals, religions, politics, get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking. A man must and will have his own approval first of all, in each and every moment and circumstance of his life — even if he must repent of a self-approved act the moment after its commission, in order to get his self-approval again: but, speaking in general terms, a man’s self-approval in the large concerns of life has its source in the approval of the peoples about him, and not in a searching personal examination of the matter. Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Mormons are Mormons; why thieves are thieves; why monarchists are monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats. We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies. Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity. Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest — the bread-and-butter interest — but not in most cases, I think. I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is born of the human being’s natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise — a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way. A political emergency brings out the corn-pone opinion in fine force in its two chief varieties — the pocketbook variety, which has its origin in self-interest, and the bigger variety, the sentimental variety — the one which can’t bear to be outside the pale; can’t bear to be in disfavor; can’t endure the averted face and the cold shoulder; wants to stand well with his friends, wants to be smiled upon, wants to be welcome, wants to hear the precious words, “He’s on the right track!” Uttered, perhaps by an ass, but still an ass of high degree, an ass whose approval is gold and diamonds to a smaller ass, and confers glory and honor and happiness, and membership in the herd. For these gauds many a man will dump his life-long principles into the street, and his conscience along with them. We have seen it happen. In some millions of instances.

Men think they think upon great political questions, and they do; but they think with their party, not independently; they read its literature, but not that of the other side; they arrive at convictions, but they are drawn from a partial view of the matter in hand and are of no particular value. They swarm with their party, they feel with their party, they are happy in their party’s approval; and where the party leads they will follow, whether for right and honor, or through blood and dirt and a mush of mutilated morals.

In our late canvass half of the nation passionately believed that in silver lay salvation, the other half as passionately believed that that way lay destruction. Do you believe that a tenth part of the people, on either side, had any rational excuse for having an opinion about the matter at all? I studied that mighty question to the bottom — came out empty. Half of our people passionately believe in high tariff, the other half believe otherwise. Does this mean study and examination, or only feeling? The latter, I think. I have deeply studied that question, too — and didn’t arrive. We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. And out of it we get an aggregation which we consider a boon. Its name is Public Opinion. It is held in reverence. It settles everything. Some think it the Voice of God.

I hate wordpress so much for their insane inability to format simple text pastes.

Nordes Gin

I don’t do as much reading during golf majors – this Thursday-Sunday is The Open Championship – so I thought I’d sub in a gin mention instead. It’s not quite a recommendation, more an attempt at settling my own thoughts of one I discovered a few weeks back – Nordes Gin.

Here’s the bottle description:



Nordes is a Galician gin inspired by the eponymous fresh northerly Atlantic wind. Made using pomace from Albarino grapes, the botanicals include juniper, ginger, hibiscus and liquorice, resulting in a unique and intriguing gin.

And the 3/5 review from the site I tend to use for my gin discoveries.

Hesitant review notwithstanding, there’s something enjoyable here, if only for the uniqueness. I can confirm that the gin doesn’t hold up with tonic, negronis, martinis, or shaken+filtered chilling (where somehow it acquires the fuzzy transparency of ouzo). In all of the above it’s either hidden or flat soapy. But if you take it straight and chilled – with maybe an ice cube or dash of cold water – it’ll come out as one of the more unique floral flavors you’re likely to find. Eucalyptus remains the strongest element to me – and I can’t shake the smell of my shower gel – but I also get a lot of hibiscus along the way and mint in the conclusion. For the £30/$40 price it feels worth the gamble.

It was very much like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it

From Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer. It is a hard tale to excerpt in that the quality is in the simmer and under the surface, but this portion hits enough to hint at the whole.

It was a rather high bed place with a set of drawers underneath. This amazing swimmer really needed the lift I gave him by seizing his leg. He tumbled in, rolled over on his back, and flung one arm across his eyes. And then, with his face nearly hidden, he must have looked exactly as I used to look in that bed. I gazed upon my other self for a while before drawing across carefully the two green serge curtains which ran on a brass rod. I thought for a moment of pinning them together for greater safety, but I sat down on the couch, and once there I felt unwilling to rise and hunt for a pin. I would do it in a moment. I was extremely tired, in a peculiarly intimate way, by the strain of stealthiness, by the effort of whispering and the general secrecy of this excitement. It was three o’clock by now and I had been on my feet since nine, but I was not sleepy; I could not have gone to sleep. I sat there, fagged out, looking at the curtains, trying to clear my mind of the confused sensation of being in two places at once, and greatly bothered by an exasperating knocking in my head. It was a relief to discover suddenly that it was not in my head at all, but on the outside of the door. Before I could collect myself the words “Come in” were out of my mouth, and the steward entered with a tray, bringing in my morning coffee. I had slept, after all, and I was so frightened that I shouted, “This way! I am here, steward,” as though he had been miles away. He put down the tray on the table next the couch and only then said, very quietly, “I can see you are here, sir.” I felt him give me a keen look, but I dared not meet his eyes just then. He must have wondered why I had drawn the curtains of my bed before going to sleep on the couch. He went out, hooking the door open as usual.

I heard the crew washing decks above me. I knew I would have been told at once if there had been any wind. Calm, I thought, and I was doubly vexed. Indeed, I felt dual more than ever. The steward reappeared suddenly in the doorway. I jumped up from the couch so quickly that he gave a start.

“What do you want here?”

“Close your port, sir—they are washing decks.”

“It is closed,” I said, reddening.

“Very well, sir.” But he did not move from the doorway and returned my stare in an extraordinary, equivocal manner for a time. Then his eyes wavered, all his expression changed, and in a voice unusually gentle, almost coaxingly:

“May I come in to take the empty cup away, sir?”

“Of course!” I turned my back on him while he popped in and out. Then I unhooked and closed the door and even pushed the bolt. This sort of thing could not go on very long. The cabin was as hot as an oven, too. I took a peep at my double, and discovered that he had not moved, his arm was still over his eyes; but his chest heaved; his hair was wet; his chin glistened with perspiration. I reached over him and opened the port.

“I must show myself on deck,” I reflected.

Of course, theoretically, I could do what I liked, with no one to say nay to me within the whole circle of the horizon; but to lock my cabin door and take the key away I did not dare. Directly I put my head out of the companion I saw the group of my two officers, the second mate barefooted, the chief mate in long India-rubber boots, near the break of the poop, and the steward halfway down the poop ladder talking to them eagerly. He happened to catch sight of me and dived, the second ran down on the main-deck shouting some order or other, and the chief mate came to meet me, touching his cap.

There was a sort of curiosity in his eye that I did not like. I don’t know whether the steward had told them that I was “queer” only, or downright drunk, but I know the man meant to have a good look at me. I watched him coming with a smile which, as he got into point-blank range, took effect and froze his very whiskers. I did not give him time to open his lips.

“Square the yards by lifts and braces before the hands go to breakfast.”

It was the first particular order I had given on board that ship; and I stayed on deck to see it executed, too. I had felt the need of asserting myself without loss of time. That sneering young cub got taken down a peg or two on that occasion, and I also seized the opportunity of having a good look at the face of every foremast man as they filed past me to go to the after braces. At breakfast time, eating nothing myself, I presided with such frigid dignity that the two mates were only too glad to escape from the cabin as soon as decency permitted; and all the time the dual working of my mind distracted me almost to the point of insanity. I was constantly watching myself, my secret self, as dependent on my actions as my own personality, sleeping in that bed, behind that door which faced me as I sat at the head of the table. It was very much like being mad, only it was worse because one was aware of it.

I’ve read relatively little Conrad but I can’t think of him without recalling Nabokov’s criticism (from Strong Opinions) and remembering that Nabokov’s hatreds are reliably strongest when directed against those who worked in the same themes as himself – here, the doubling and dopplegangers he includes through his career from Despair to Lolita to Look at the Harlequins!:

But I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir-shop style, bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist clichés. In neither of those two writers [Hemingway and Conrad] can I find anything that I would care to have written myself. In mentality and emotion, they are hopelessly juvenile