This review of Javier Marias’s Written Lives makes me feel so much better about myself.

Some examples of disastrous behaviour:

Once Arthur Conan Doyle, who was known to get into fistfights when young and who identified with knights of old, was traveling by train through South Africa:

“One of his grown-up sons commented on the ugliness of a woman who happened to walk down the corridor. He had barely had time to finish this sentence when he received a slap and saw, very close to his, the flushed face of his old father, who said very mildly: ‘Just remember that no woman is ugly.’ “

Throughout, Marías tosses off the sort of facts and turns of phrase that linger in the mind: Kipling’s “The Man Who Would be King” was the favorite story of both Faulkner and Proust. “The death of Yukio Mishima was so spectacular that it has almost succeeded in obliterating the many other stupid things he did in his life.” Joseph Conrad’s “natural state was one of disquiet bordering on anxiety.” Violet Hunt, at age 13, offered herself to John Ruskin, later refused a marriage proposal from Oscar Wilde, seduced the homosexual Somerset Maugham, was seduced by H.G. Wells and lived for some years as the putative wife of Ford Madox Ford. Marías reminds us that William Faulkner, who once worked for the University of Mississippi post office, hated to be interrupted in his reading by “any son-of-a-bitch who had two cents to buy a stamp.”

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