fiction of literary friendship ...
Complete article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/nov/04/literary-friendship?newsfeed=true
The fiction of literary friendship
Judging by the stories that have been written about it, writers do not make the best of friends
guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 November 2011 06.32 EDT
Side by side … typewriters. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian
A number of recent books have won praise for their portraits of the sunny, mutually nourishing aspects of literary friendship. Matthew Hollis's Now All Roads Lead to France, looks at Edward Thomas's friendship with Robert Frost; Diana Athill's Instead of a Book, collects her correspondence with poet Edward Field; while Josie Barnard's Book of Friendship includes fascinating insights into the friendships between Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, and Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.
Under the cover of fiction however, things are not quite so rosy. Indeed, one gets the distinct impression that scores are being settled and psychological boils are being messily lanced.
Perhaps the greatest – or at least the funniest – account of a literary friendship gone bad is Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire. The novel is presented in two parts: the first being the final poem by the recently-deceased John Shade; the second, its accompanying notes by his colleague, admirer, and delusional "friend", Charles Kinbote. His preening, paranoid and wildly unreliable narration says far more about himself than the poem, and hilariously reveals the one-sided nature of their friendship: "We never discussed, John Shade and I, any of my personal misfortunes. Our close friendship was on that higher, exclusively intellectual level where one can rest from emotional troubles, not share them. My admiration for him was for me a sort of Alpine cure. I experienced a grand sense of wonder whenever I looked at him, especially in the presence of other people, inferior people." (See also: The Trick of It by Michael Frayn, an epistolary novel told from the point of view of a literary critic who marries his subject. At times a little too close to Nabokov for comfort, but a fun enough read nonetheless.)
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