Whether too slight or too vague the ties that bind people

Virginia Woolf

Whether too slight or too vague the ties that bind people casually meeting in a hotel at midnight, they possess one advantage at least over the bonds which unite the elderly, who have lived together once and so must live for ever. Slight they may be, but vivid and genuine, merely because the power to break them is within the grasp of each, and there is no reason for a continuance except a true desire that continue they shall. When two people have been married for years they seem to become unconscious of each other’s bodily presence so that they move as if alone, speak aloud things which they do not expect to be answered, and in general seem to experience all the comfort of solitude without its loneliness. The joint lives of Ridley and Helen had arrived at this stage of community, and it was often necessary for one or the other to recall with an effort whether a thing had been said or only thought, shared or dreamt in private.  At four o’clock in the afternoon two or three days later Mrs. Ambrose was standing brushing her hair, while her husband was in the dressing room which opened out of her room, and occasionally, through the cascade of water- he was washing his face- she caught exclamations, ‘So it goes on year after year; I wish, I wish, I wish I could make an end of it,’ to which she paid no attention.

-Excerpt from The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

That’s my technique, I resurrect myself through clothes


That’s my technique, I resurrect myself through clothes. In fact it’s impossible for me to remember what I did, what happened to me, unless I can remember what I was wearing, and every time I discard a sweater or a dress I am discarding a part of my life. I shed identities like a snake, leaving them pale and shriveled behind me, a trail of them, and if I want any memories at all I have to collect, one by one, those cotton and wool fragments, piece them together, achieving at last a patchwork self, no defense anyway against the cold. I concentrate and this particular lost soul rises miasmic from the Crippled Civilians’ Clothing Donation Box in the Loblaws parking lot in downtown Toronto, where I finally ditched that coat.

The coat was long and black. It was good quality–good quality mattered then, and the women’s magazines had articles about basic wardrobes and correct pressing and how to get spots out of camel’s hair– but it was far too big for me, the sleeves came to my knuckles, the hem to the tops of my plastic rain boots, which did not fit either. When I bought it I meant to alter it but never did. Most of my clothes were the same, they were all too big, perhaps I believed that if my clothes were large and shapeless, if they formed a sort of tent around me, I would be less visible. But the reverse was true; I must have been more noticeable than most as I billowed along the street in my black wool shroud, my head swathed in, was it a plaid angora scarf, also good quality; at any rate, my head swathed.

I bought these clothes, when I bought clothes at all–for you must remember that, like you, I was poor, which accounts for at least some of our desperation–in Filene’s Basement, where good quality clothes that failed to sell at the more genteel levels were disposed of at slashed prices. You often had to try them on in the aisles as there were few dressing rooms, and the cellar, for it was a cellar, low-ceilinged, dimly lit, dank with the smell of anxious armpits and harassed feet, was filled on bargain days with struggling women in slips and bras, stuffing themselves into torn and soiled designer originals to the sound of heavy breathing and a hundred sticking zippers. It is customary to laugh at the bargain-hunting women, at their voraciousness, their hysteria but Filene’s Basement was, in its own way, tragic. No  one went there who did not aspire to a shape-change, a transformation, a new life; but the things never did quite fit.

-Excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s Hair Jewellery, in Dancing Girls

Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs

“Here’s a taxidermist’s,” Bill said. “Want to buy anything? Nice stuffed dog?”
“Come on,” I said. “you’re pie-eyed.”
“Pretty nice stuffed dogs,” Bill said. “Certainly brighten up your flat.”
“Come on.”
“Just one stuffed dog. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em alone. But listen, Jake. Just one stuffed dog.”
“Come on.”
“Mean everything in the world to you after you bought it. Simple exchange of values. You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog.”
“We’ll get one on the way back.”
“All right. Have it your own way. Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs. Not my fault.”
We went on.


It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.


I turned on the light again and read. I read the Turgenieff. I knew that now, reading it in the oversensitized state of my mind after too much brandy, I would remember it somewhere, and afterward it would seem as though it had really happened to me. I would always have it. That was another good thing you paid for and then had. Some time along toward daylight I went to sleep.

The waiter seemed a little offended about the flowers of the Pyrenees, so I overtipped him. That made him happy. It felt comfortable to be in a country where it is so simple to make people happy. You can never tell whether a Spanish waiter will thank you. Everything is on such a clear financial basis in France. It is the simplest country to live in. No one makes things complicated by becoming your friend for any obscure reason. If you want people to like you you have only to spend a little money. I spent a little money and the waiter liked me. He appreciated my valuable qualities. He would be glad to see me back. I would dine there again some time and he would be glad to see me, and would want me at his table. It would be a sincere liking because it would have a sound basis. I was back in France.

The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.
“Oh Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

-Excerpts from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

What’s so great about The Great Gatsby?


Read on and find out… .

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life

it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams

The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens—finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run.

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling—and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon—

life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.

so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month.

Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it

Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.

Miss Baker and I exchanged a short glance consciously devoid of meaning

Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.

I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.

A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble.

It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.

It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.

She wouldn’t let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.

the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn

He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths

Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.

The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them goodbye.

he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about … like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made… .

the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes’ power of correction

It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… . And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Excerpts from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

She believes in an inevitable fate…


She counted in my life, you understand. She is one of the few people who has ever really counted; but I was never able to make her live for the moment and be careless of tomorrow. She believes in an inevitable fate, and on this wheel my spontaneity has always been broken. When I do something reckless I do not see the consequences; I do not even think of them. But when she wishes to do a foolish thing she sees quite clearly in front of her what is going to happen. Not that that stops her from doing it…

No she lets herself go. She disdains consequences. She sacrifices everybody who may suffer, starting with herself. But this absence of spontaneity makes everything she does seem calculated. A recklessness that is calculated can become a horrible cruelty.


I calculated that I could earn fifteen francs a day. With that I should just be able to live, because the evening before I had found a little room at six francs a day not too far from where Stania was living. That increased the possibility of seeing her often. I also calculated that if I lived very cheaply I should be able to take her two or three times a week to a little restaurant. Or perhaps I could buy the things necessary for having our meals together in her room…To pass my evenings with her I would be like a collector who is in possession of the broken bits of a beautiful vase which he cannot piece together and yet cannot throw away. It would mean that my regret for the good times of the past would always be kept alive.


I went to the station alone. I had a Swiss passport of shining newness. I had the money for my journey and two hundred francs over. I was born again. I had a future. No past any more…

The train rattled–tick, tack, tack, tack, tick, tack, tack, tack…At the frontier I showed my passport and they gave it back to me without any questions. The train started again–tick, tack, tack, tack, tick, tack, tack, tack…I was a new person, making my way towards a new fate.

Van Leeuwen was dead.

He was quite dead.

He was forgotten.

R. I. P….

Yes, but he has left me all his grief.


Excerpts From Barred by Edward de Neve, translated by Jean Rhys