l’hiver et les écrivains

by jemma margaret

Slightly downhearted in the midst of la grisaille, I browsed a NYT opinion piece from someone in Seattle claiming that the gloom inspired writerly creativity. The author cited Seattle, Paris, and London as examples. A few quibbles from this latitude:

1. Very cute to compare Seattle to Paris and London, but I’d wait a hundred years before making such a bold statement. Sure I don’t read contemporary fiction, but maybe I would if Dickens or Dumas were still writing.

2. The Bible. The Odyssey.

Please do not blame me for being a bit mean spirited and probably overly negative with only 8.5 hours of daylight and none of them “light”. Since coming back to Paris I saw the sun once, on Friday morning. So if the article had posited instead that better critics could be found in cold, damp, dark climates, well, I might be more inclined to agree.

Though 21 December marks the first of winter, for me it also marks the beginning of hope. As each day quickly descends into darkness I know that the next day will contain a few more moments of potential Vitamin D (also available in mushrooms, thank goodness).

The whole notion of creativity and weather being correlated is an old and racist one with some choice nineteenth century examples, which always end up pointing to the creative advantages of living at the writer’s locale. It’s a very convenient science.

Speaking of literature, I haven’t been able to fall asleep lately, so today I picked up one of my favorite somnifère, Henry James. James wrote several novels that take place or pass through Paris, but the one on sale at Shakespeare and Co happened to be Washington Square. I read the first sentence and realized that it could possibly have a really terrible influence on my dissertation (which my French advisor says is already American and overwritten):

During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it, there flourished and practised in the city of New  York a physician who enjoyed perhaps an exceptional share of the consideration which, in the United States, has always been bestowed upon distinguished members of the medical profession.

Oh, yes!

Even worse, I am planning to buy Les Misérables next weekend (finally found a used French copy at Victor Hugo’s house of all places!), so please expect plenty of lengthy digressions leading to relevant and irrelevant places (much like my lost walk in the 11th arrondissement yesterday afternoon).

On another note, while browsing the shelves of S and co, I came across a book that at first looked amusing. Emily Dickinson “translated” into contemporary witticisms. Well, they weren’t actually. Deeper than the so-called translator’s ineptitude, the idea of the text being something worth publishing felt very profane. Dickinson poems are like koans, and shouldn’t be meddled with as such. She is the patron saint of lonely souls, if I do say so. Though, once more, probably not the best model for academic writing…

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.