Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell are two writers I love, even though I’ve not read a whole lot by either of them (that reminds me, I shelved The Chateau at 100pp. – must dig it out some time, and probably start again.) So, of course, I had to get The Element of Lavishness when I heard about it – it’s the letters between them. I’ve barely started it, but already I wanted to share a couple of lovely bits from it with y’all.
STW to WM (9th February 1951)
When I was young I had a young friend who was extremely sensitive to the cold. He was at Hailebury, rather a bleak and bracing public school; and then in this sixteenth year his place in class got him next to a radiator. From that moment until his schooling ended two years later, he gave his whole mind to remaining by the radiator. He told me it required the exactest calculation and foresight to remain at just that level of scholarship. It did not do, he soon discovered, to be just inertly stupid. That angered his form master, who marked him down. He had, so to speak, to row, and yet remain by the same tuft of reeds. And in summer, when the radiator was apt to slip his mind he had to be as alert as a mosquito not to give way to emulation and the line of least resistance. He stayed by the radiator, however, and left with a scholarship, much to every one’s annoyance and surprise.
If I see other equally delightful excerpts, and if I remember, I’ll share them as I go!