Inwait

Inwait watching listening
to what he wants to hear
then to critique that lesson
passably betraying purpose
occasion audience intent
the critic in wait teases out
the objections passive
aggressively indirectly
disconnects the circuit
breaks the circle of care

the critic lies in wait
for pretentious chichi
affectation of what is
stretched thin to impress
takes a back seat alone
in the cynical corner
and enjoys the play

meanwhile the husband who hopes
the woman who kneels knows prayer
the child who tries to please and fails
drama takes place in an empty house

words linked absurdly together
like barbed wire avoid likes
but attract comments like flies
to sweet sticky paper

happens all the time
you who always
those who never
it argues thus
near dusk
all at once
it comes out
without revision
without a second
thought

that’s ok it’s not easy
hitting a baseball
being social
attending holy mass
body and blood
sitting alone
writing a poem
being a critic

keeping the secret
watchdog beware
keeps it chained
to his heart barking
champing at the bit
coughing up crud
it’s not easy
being a critic
lying in wait
taking the bait

still the sun also
rises and climbs
and falls but too hot
too cold too close
too far away
too bright too long
too short a day
for the critic
on the hunt
for something to say

Subbing in Substack

I spent a few hours this week delving into Substack, the online self-publishing venue giving independent writers the opportunity to build a syndicated portfolio intended for a dedicated audience of subscribers who read for free or pay, often on sliding scales, the writer usually offering more content to paid subscribers. It’s a little like busking, where the musician sets up on a busy street corner and pulls out the axe and puts out the tip hat.

One great plus of Substack is that there are no ads, few distractions. The presentations I’ve seen are clear and clean. I was already a free subscriber to Caleb Crain’s “Leaflet,” a combo newsletter of his bird watching photography and his lit-culture-watching writing, and of Julian Gallo’s “Cazar Moscas” – wonderful title that, which means to catch flies, or to fish with a fly, apt metaphor for Substack. When Substack began, in 2017, not too long ago but maybe a long time in online years, the idea was to establish a newsletter, so that with every Substack post an email notification went automatically to subscribers. And that’s how I still read Caleb and Julian’s new pieces. And this week I discovered and subscribed to Patti Smith’s Substack. I had become aware of podcast capability at Substack, and when I found Patti there, I saw that she was also putting up short videos, which I immediately found attractive for their simplicity, honesty, clarity. They didn’t seem to be performances, but downhome one way conversations, personal, if you will, in of course an impersonal, voyeuristic way. For example, I saw her in her everyday place in Rockaway, and it looked exactly like a lived in beach house might look if it indeed was lived in.

Anyway, I had been interested in moving my “Live at 5” guitar gig from IGTV to some other venue, not really all that interested in seeing my seventy something selfie on the silver screen anymore, and growing tired of Instas addictive format, and I thought about podcasting, that is audio only, some guitar, song, story, poem, conversation. Then I became aware of Substack’s video capability and before I knew it, I was going live on Substack with a “Live at 5” show. Or so I thought. The whole enterprise ended in disaster. As near as I can tell, Substack does not enable live streaming. You have to upload either audio or video, and the videos are limited to, it appears, under 10 minutes. I had by Substack “Live at 5” showtime 16 free subscribers. I’m not sure what they ended up seeing or hearing, if anything. And then, late last evening, I discovered the “Live at 5” video I had made for Substack in the photo gallery of my Samsung device. It was just over 5 minutes long. I watched a bit of it, stopped it, and deleted it.

Interested viewers may check out another version recounting my subbing at Substack experience here. I’m reminded of Dylan’s famous words, “and I’ll know my song well before I start singing,” an admonition I’ve never paid much attention to, and also reminded of the Nobel Prize time Patti forgot the lyrics, which was no big deal, but of course everyone had to make a big deal of it, as if pros never get nervous or forget the words.

Where do I go from here? IDK. Real time with real people might be nice.

A War with a View

These are two very different books, but so close in flavors and effects. Both concern a soldier recently returned home from World War One duty. Rebecca West wrote “The Return of the Soldier” when she was only 24, living with her three year old, in 1916, the war still on and in some of its deadliest and darkest hours. J. L. Carr’s “A Month in the Country” was published in 1980, when he was in his late 60’s, WW1 at that time superseded by a number of other high and mighty events.

This is not a book review, that lockstep genre one learns in literary basic training. War narratives often exaggerate plot and action. The truth is action, if it comes at all, stops time, stops waiting, lifts the soldier off the ground or water, suspends. There is no plot to that moment. If he remembers anything of the action the memory stirs smells, sounds, touch, taste. World War 1 is memorable for its suspension of progress, the soldiers on both sides stalemated in their trenches for days, weeks, months, years, the most significant action perhaps a slow moving cloud or fog hugging the ground and when it gets to you takes the skin off your face. And of course in any war for every soldier that experiences what I am here calling action there are several others who experience only the waiting. Both experiences take their toll and can leave soldiers, whatever their experience, broken machinery.

In any case, for the most part, these books avoid that portrayal of action, and take place in beautiful natural settings, far from any action of the war. Both returned soldiers suffer from emotional trauma, but are able to enjoy life returned away from the front. They don’t suffer from anhedonia, usually the result of not enough action. Both books are necessarily novellas, because so much has been left out. Both concern a small cast of characters in a little window of time and action out of view of the mainstream. Rebecca West has her character Jenny narrate, so it’s a first person but not the soldier returned who talks, while Carr’s book is told first person by the returned soldier, Tom Birkin. Both books are love stories surrounded by nature in lovely landscaped settings mostly unspoiled. The writing is clear and concise, natural and unaffected but poetic, impressionistic, descriptive. Both books touch on class as a theme, work, and all the trappings and dressings of diversions and social nakedness.

“Penina’s Letters” too touches on those themes and uses some similar techniques to get its soldier returned story going and told, but I suppose its author may not have seen enough action, and so had to substitute satire for reality, or maybe should have relied on someone else to tell his story, Penina perhaps.

Nothing, Cont.

Speaking of nothing, Henry Green wrote a novel titled “Nothing” (1950). “Nothing” shares some of the characteristics of the early radio and television soap operas. It’s nearly all dialog; one can’t see the narrator, but the storyteller sees the reader. “Nothing” is about the nothing that is the something at the center of human activity. One forgets the narrator is watching one’s every move. From dialog only the characters are drawn, succinctly and diversely, such is the clarity of their voices – that they talk mostly of nothing is nothing. It only matters what one says. By nothing is not meant something insignificant; on the contrary – it is only through the direct encounter of nothing, where the characters are stripped of all their lies and workarounds, diversions and investments, that the essence of true life is revealed.

Yet it’s 1948, and these “Nothing” characters don’t seem as affected by the recent war as Barbara Pym’s characters in similar settings. “Nothing’s” John, knowing his daughter Mary “was to be out of London the next forty-eight hours on some trip in connection with her Government job” (133) – but we find out little to nothing about that job or what the connection is. The war of course was an unpleasant affair, its results mostly visible in the everyday details of work-a-day life: the difficulty of finding a suitable flat or flatmate, parsing wardrobes, the reopening of restaurants as places of interest, the local church the center of social, cultural, familial life (think jumble sales, lectures, and clubs of all sorts), and the shortage of marriageable men or men with the proper attitude toward marriage. Thus stripped of diversion and meaningful advertisement these folks on the edge of nothing seem a peculiar precursor to our time when commercialism and popular culture, and the adulation of the famous for being famous and nothing more, seem to reckon yet another coming.

What to do

“Nothing to be done,” Didi and Gogo bicker, essentially about what to do, like an old couple of a long suffering, loving marriage. Nature is no refuge; the one tree in their world seems sick. They can’t go anywhere, for fear of missing their appointment with Godot. They hang out and talk, express various physical complaints, visit the past, ask questions they can’t answer.

The play, Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” is famously about nothing. Nothing fills the stage, informs the dialog. If they carried cell phones, their batteries would surely be dead. In any case, they’ve no one to call, and no one to call them.

The two (often described as tramps, bums, or hoboes of some kind, clowns of some sort, lost from their circus, or stripped to being human without diversion down-and-outs) might be among the last few of a pandemic, or simply retired, their pensions just enough to enable them to do nothing but talk freely, which is everything in a world of nothing.

It’s not easy – doing nothing. Even contemplating nothing can be a nerve-racking business, fraught with anxiety. Consider, for example, what nothing is. Nothing is what is not. In the beginning – well, just before the beginning, all was nought, and from naught came all.

And it’s not easy doing nothing responsibly. nān thing. And yet, if you make a practice of it, you are called a do nothing. But there is no such thing as nothing. Nature overkills. If the universe is infinite, and the universe is composed of things, there can be nothing within, and nothing without.

Consider a bottle out of which you suck everything, leaving nothing, and you cap it, a bottle of nothing. Would it be dark in there? Like dark matter? For if everything is taken out, light too must be absent. If scarcity creates value, what could be more precious than nothing? And Didi and Gogo are its brokers.

The Great Text Awakening

These days, there is no bugle call. I don’t have to set the alarm for 4 am across the room to ensure I get out of bed now and hat up for a drive north to Seattle rather than hit the snooze button evermore. And these days, days will pass without my getting a single legitimate call. When I do get a call, the ringtone plays a bit of Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” and I’m inclined not to pick up but to dwell in the sound of the violin reminding me my mother’s tears no longer flow.

These days, I’m not sure why I still bother to maintain a phone, one that no longer rings till the cows come home. The cows don’t leave home anymore. Indeed, like Hamlet, “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space” were it not that I get text messages.

These days, the text messages I get are usually automatic. For example, my phone provider will text my bill, usually at an absurdly early hour on a weekend morning, as if a dozen or more cows were restlessly mooing to be milked. Or there’s an urgent message from some pollster who can’t take another breath until he has my opinion on who should be the next President. Or the local pharmacy is alerting me that once again my doctor is in denial.

Yet this morning, deep in some recurring dream reconstituting an old commute and the reasons whyfor, at not, it might be argued, an unreasonable hour for someone departing the docks for an adventure, but arguably still a bit early for someone who has no call to wake up let alone get out of bed for a walk along some deserted slipway, I received the following headline-worthy news item of personal note from an old friend who I might add has I think never before texted me any message whatsoever and who indeed calls less frequently than my poor mother used to:

“We are on our way
to Texas. I am
enjoying the book
you sent: Three
Men in a Boat.
Thanks.”

8:20 AM

I picked up the phone, read said message with interest, got out of bed, made some coffee, bringing a cup to Susan and taking mine out for a yard walkabout where I decided I really should cut at least the back grass today, came back in for a second cup, and sat down to put up this post, thinking, I hope he’s not texting while driving. I hesitate however to discourage text messages from, say, a reststop. I remember Kerouac’s general advice not to use the phone, because, he argued, people are never ready to talk, and he advised using poetry instead. And, indeed, “We are on our way” is a perfect poem written evermuch in the Kerouac style.

Memoir

One might approach the memoir form, one’s own memoir, with a casual indifference, for no doubt everyone else will, while it takes a bit of faith to trust as total fact any stranger’s avowed remembrances. There’s also the problem of what’s to be left unsaid, for any deletion – deliberate, determinate, accidental – turns down the path of fiction, yet all of experience, the universe of one’s life from its big bang forward or the unexpurgated version of the time one visited (fill in your personal fave), will take way too long. Even Proust must have left some stuff out, and Knausgard, if for no other reason that they had not eyes in the back of their heads. It’s not what we remember, but how that fills dreams and notebooks. And most folks are quickly bored hearing one’s dreams recast in words over morning coffee. While the day-book or journal is not quite yet a memoir, often neither the what nor how of memory but the immediate reaction to a still unfolding event.

I’m looking into again Edmund Wilson’s “The Thirties: From Notebooks and Diaries of the Period, Edited with an Introduction by Leon Edel” (First printing, 1980). From the Editor’s Foreword:

“Wilson intended his journals to be edited as ‘trade’ books, not as scholarly editions; he wanted no scholarly apparatus and in particular no treatment of his text as if it were sacrosanct. Journals are written in the rough; and he knew journal keepers repeat themselves. He wanted his slips of the pen silently corrected without the inevitable sic and explanatory notes.”

xi

Fortunately for this reader, L. E. ignored Wilson’s want and provided copious explanatory notes as to who’s being talked about, why important to the era, and what’s going on around them at the time. Though Wilson also logs enough everyday observation to make notes unnecessary:

July 18 [Journey to the Soviet Union, 1935]. Rowing on the river at Marmontovka, Free Day – little curling river with grass-green banks, with people, largely naked, on the banks: they look better without their clothes because the clothes are no good – very nice to see them – blond girls with white skin, thick round legs, and big round breasts, boys burned brown except around the hips, where they had been wearing trunks, where it was comparatively white – bathing suits seemed to be becoming more and more perfunctory, they seemed more and more to be leaving them off – the factory, where a very rudimentary little swimming dock of planks had been built; at the end a dam and falls, beyond which you couldn’t go any farther, a flock of white goats; two men in a pup tent, a man in a shack; an elderly man and woman sitting on something, turned away from each other reading the papers.

574-575

I pulled Wilson’s “The Thirties” off the “now reading” shelf (aka books with bookmarks still somewhere in them), looking for parallels to today’s “The Twenties,” though we are of course only just into them. In a long note, Edel says “He [Wilson] could not see why the American leftists should not be as critical of this [the Stalinist regime] as they were of other tyrannies – Hitler’s, Mussolini’s, Franco’s” (714).

Of closer if not exact parallel is Irene Nemirovsky’s “Suite Francaise,” which begins with:

“It was night, they were at war and there was an air raid. But dawn was near and the war very far away. The first to hear the hum of the siren were those who couldn’t sleep – the ill and bedridden, mothers with sons at the front, women crying for the men they loved.”

3. First Vintage International Edition, May 2007.

“Appendix I,” which includes Nemirovsky’s notes taken from her notebooks, begins:

“My God! what is this country doing to me? Since it is rejecting me, let us consider it coldly, let us watch as it loses its honour and its life. And the other countries? What are they to me? Empires are dying. Nothing matters. Whether you look at it from a mystical or a personal point of view, it’s just the same. Let us keep a cool head. Let us harden our heart. Let us wait.

21 June [1941]. Conversation with Pied-de-Marmite. France is going to join hands with Germany. Soon they will be calling up people here but ‘only the young ones.’ This was no doubt out of consideration towards Michel. One army is crossing Russia, the other is coming from Africa. Suez has been taken. Japan with its formidable fleet is fighting America. England is begging for mercy.

25 June. Unbelievable heat. The garden is decked out with the colours of June – azure, pale-green and pink. I lost my pen. There are still many other worries such as the threat of a concentration camp, the status of Jews etc. Sunday was unforgettable. The thunderbolt about Russia* hit our friends after their ‘mad night’ down by the lake. And in order to [?] with them, everyone got drunk. Will I write about it one day?”

373, *Footnote 2: “Germany invaded the USSR on 22 June 1941.”

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, Mr Klein on Hydra, and Bendrix in the Wrong Bed

The theme tying the Palfrey, Klein, and Bendrix books together, apart from I read them near simultaneously, is how to live given our peculiar predicament in place and time. For Mrs Palfrey and Klein, the quandary is old age, for Maurice Bendrix, another of Graham Greene’s difficult but entertaining characters, it’s another man’s wife.

Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey finds herself widowed and looking for a suitable place to live out her remaining years. Daniel Klein returns to Hydra, the Greek island he first visited in his youth, now, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus et al his companions, “in Search of a Fulfilled Life.” And Graham Greene, obsessed with another man’s wife, tries to reconcile lust, love, man, and God in London at the end of World War II, no less. The trio of books forms a sandwich of bread fiction with filling of popularized philosophy.

In Elizabeth Taylor’s “Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont,” first published in 1971, recently widowed Laura Palfrey decides she would prefer living in London at a partially residential hotel where she can take her meals and companions or not as part of the deal. She doesn’t have much of a plan, so the random but lifelike twists and turns come naturally, while old age seems to bring the same existential questions one faced in one’s foundling youth but perhaps put on the back burner during one’s years of forced employment or marriage, more concerned about the bread than the filling. But in old age, one returns to the choices of fillings. How, for example, we might fill our time.

Daniel Klein, in “Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life,” argues for simplicity in old age, the art of doing nothing contentedly, a choice of course requiring a bit of privilege. But his point, in part, is that even those with a ton of privilege often waste it trying to stay young, while old age offers a predicament thoroughly to be enjoyed. Part of that enjoyment includes the gift of being untied from the train tracks of sex.

Graham Greene’s Maurice Bendrix in “The End of the Affair” enjoys no such respite. Another Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition with a movie-trailer-like Introduction better left unread or at least saved until after you’ve read the book, “The End of the Affair,” first published in 1951, is another of Greene’s fictions borrowing enough it seems from his own experience to qualify as fictional memoir, a good choice for those readers who might need the explanations of gossip as critical backdrop.

So, how does one live one’s old age? Well, one could do worse, for starters, than reading about it.

F/Z

The book is a little monster, the text its mask. It will fit into your pocket, the deeper the bigger, where economy is a hole in one’s pocket. The tiny book is in. The small venue. Intimate. Indeterminate intimacy. Fernando’s imperative.

“…one has to jump straight into the story; even if doing so seems like we are merely leaping from one tale into another, feels like we are doing less than nothing. After all, we should recall Slavoj’s lesson that the classic scene in horror movies is the moment when the monster takes off its mask, only to reveal that under the mask lies exactly the same face.”

54, S/Z Jeremy Fernando: A European Manifesto Slavoj Zizek, 2022, Delere Press.

To unmask the text is the work of Theory, influenced by algorithms developed in the Social Sciences, which replaced Freud. “What is to be done?”

One might begin, could certainly do worse, by reading Jeremy Fernando’s latest little monster, S/Z, a McLuhanesque mosaic that follows (explicates, explores, examines, includes) Slavoj Zizek’s A European Manifesto (first published in an abridged version in French as Mon manifeste europeen in Le Monde on 13 May 2021):

“My thesis is that precisely now, when Europe is in decline and the attacks on its legacy are at their strongest, one should decide FOR Europe. The predominant target of these attacks is not Europe’s racist etc. legacy but the emancipatory potential that is unique to Europe: secular modernity, Enlightenment, human rights and freedoms, social solidarity and justice, feminism … The reason we should stick to the name “Europe” is not only because good features prevail over bad; the main reason is that European legacy provides the best critical instruments to analyze what went wrong in Europe. Are those who oppose ‘Eurocentrism’ aware that the very terms they use in their critique are part of European legacy?”

11.

We are at the intersection of Zizek and Fernando, which is to say, there are no streets and no intersection. There is a path that runs (meanders, zigzags, convolutes) like a clear stream over profound stones through a part of the woods we may have never been before. We pass the huts of Badiou, Barthes, Derrida, Dufourmantelle, Kierkegaard, Cixous, Baudrillard, and others

“And by doing so, calls for a reading (lit) that is aware of itself as reading, that – by foregrounding its form, its making – quite possibly undoes itself as one is reading, is potentially under erasure (sous rature) while being read” (strikeouts added).

31.

This is what we do: Reading (23 to 42); Writing (43 to 55); Fainting in Coils (57 to 73).

“Which is not the standard call for multiculturalism – for that still maintains the notion of a single Europe, of a Europe in which many different kinds and types of peoples have to fit themselves into – but a more radical one that attends to Europe itself, that reads what it might be to be European. Bringing with it echoes of wideness, broadness (eurys), certainly encompassing many, but also a matter of seeing, of the eye (ops): of one that sees in the light of the setting sun.”

67.

Thus we arrive back to McLuhan, who explains the effects of technology on the sensorium, who might prefer going back to a time when, before the printing press, men were men and boats were boats (appropriated from another Mc in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”).

We take what we need, when and where we find it. We are building a map not out of the woods, but further in,

“Where, a true disruption comes through reading the notion that we are dealing with – responding to it, conversing with it, turning-with (versare) it, quite possibly occasionally turning it against (versus) itself, but never severing it, tearing it completely from its boundaries, its form. Thus, transforming it in a manner in which it is both recognisable, not-beyond, but also pushing it a step-beyond at exactly the same time.”

66.

Any number of syllabi might be created from this short Delere Press text (81 pages). Such is the depth of the footnotes. As an example, possibly my favorite:

“This line was uttered in a conversation about literature and reading – probably at a bar – with my old friend, Neil Murphy, in June 2006. During the course of the evening, Neil also reminded me that, << reading literature with your head is always a mistake >>.

32.

To find out (discover, uncover, read, listen, study, research, join the conversation), what Neil Murphy “uttered,” Dear Reader, please, you won’t regret it, get the Delere Press book: ISBN 978-981-18-1987-2
S/Ž | A EUROPEAN MANIFESTO .

The Myth of Syllabus, Cartoon by Joe Linker

It Takes a Little Getting Used To

I’ve been reading the new Mel Brooks book, All About Me! My Remarkable Life in Show Business (Ballantine Books, 2021), aloud evenings for family entertainment. It takes a little getting used to, but it beats Jeopardy, which I’ve given up along with ice cream as a near nightly habit moving into the new year. I got the Mel Brooks book for Susan as a Christmas gift. She likes Mel Brooks. She’s very knowledgeable about films and actors and singers and such. Remembers lyrics of far away songs and where she was and how old she was when she saw a movie and who she saw it with. Her grandfather on her mother’s side was in the film industry in Hollywood, a career scene painter, back in the days when movies were made mostly on backlots and required giant backdrops of scenery painted, so the action filmed in the foreground would look like it was done on location. His specialty was clouds, skies, oceans, also buildings and street scenes, fronts, false facades, and interior walls and columns and windows. One year, they flew him to Italy to paint some backdrops for Ben Hur. He worked for the studios. He was an artist, a painter, in the union. He used bristle brush and airbrush. I probably wouldn’t get in line to watch Ben Hur now, but it was a very successful and influential film. I don’t know if Susan’s grandfather ever met Mel Brooks, but Mel might have been influenced by the Ben Hur film when making his History of the World films. Anyway, Mel uses the phrase “It took a little getting used to” frequently in All About Me! For example, when he first eats the Army chow called “shit on a shingle” he says, “it took a little getting used to.”

We’re in Chapter Three, titled World War II, and 18 year old Mel’s just finished a 1945 seasick crossing of the North Atlantic in February and is now in the French countryside of Normandy training to join an Engineer Battalion. In an aside, a flash-forward, he returns to the French farm while in Europe during the filming of The Elephant Man (1980), which was produced by Brooksfilms. And when Mel gets to the farm, he’s greeted by the little French farm kid he befriended with candy in 1945, the kid now the size of a bear. “Mon Dieu! Mel?” the now grown kid says, recognizing the now middle aged ex-soldier.

It takes a little getting used to, but I enjoy reading aloud, even if Susan is the only person in the audience. A book like All About Me! lends itself to an oral reading, straight ahead first person narrative memoir with plenty of room for interruption to discuss what’s going on, complete with jokes and laughs and dialog, anecdote and history, and old photos to share with the audience.

Yeah, it takes a little getting used to, oral reading for entertainment, for the reader and listener, but it’s fun and engaging and certainly beats bad television, but probably not the football championships. Add another lockdown activity to the list of things to do during the Great Covid Scare.

Awash in Baroque

How do we recall a past occurring prior to our visit to the planet? The physicists are busy trying to recall the origin of the universe, and beyond. Meantime, I’ve been busy visiting the Baroque era of the 17th and 18th Centuries. We discover timelines to be arbitrarily drawn. Borges explains in his Kafka and his Precursors, arguing how Kafka influenced Shakespeare, for example. And J. S. Bach, even when played on so called period instruments in a cold church in Saxony, continues to be influenced by Thelonious Monk. It’s best to keep the algorithms confused, guessing.

For some time, Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel The Blue Flower sat buried in the to-be-read stack, even as all her other novels were read, some more than once: The Bookshop, At Freddie’s, Offshore. The problem seemed to rest in the tag historical novel. But couldn’t Offshore also be considered a so-called historical novel? In any case, it was Eric Siblin’s The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece, thoroughly enjoyed, that brought about a reconsideration of The Blue Flower, bringing it to the top of the stack, opened, and listened to.

Here is an example of how Penelope influences the Baroque era of Saxony:

“‘I am not sure about that,’ said Fritz. ‘Luck has its rules, if you can understand them, and then it is scarcely luck.’
‘Yes, but every evening at dinner, to sit there while these important people amused themselves by giving you too much to drink, to have your glass filled up again and again with fine wines, I don’t know what…What did they talk about?’
‘Nature-philosophy, galvanism, animal magnetism and freemasonry,’ said Fritz.
‘I don’t believe it. You drink wine to forget things like that. And then at night, when the pretty women come creaking on tiptoe up the stairs to find the young innocent, and tap at your door, T R I U M P H !’
‘There are no women,’ Fritz told him, ‘I think perhaps my uncle did not invite any.’
‘No women!’ cried Erasmus. ‘Who then did the washing?'”

The Blue Flower, 1995, Penelope Fitzgerald, page 30 in the Second Mariner Books edition 2014.

It’s that bit of who does the washing, to cite but one example, which begins her 20th Century novel and remains a motif throughout where Penelope influences the Baroque era that is her setting.