“During the next month my infatuation with Serena had all the intensity of which a middle-aged man is capable. I abandoned my office, leaving the staff to cope for themselves, and spent all my time with Serena, tending her like the most dutiful lover . At huge expense I had a complex air-conditioning system installed in my house, of a type only employed in museums. In the past I had moved Serena from warm room to cool without a thought to her complexion, assuming it to be made of some insensitive plastic, but I now carefully regulated the temperature and humidity, determined to preserve her forever. I re-arranged the furniture throughout the house to avoid bruising her arms and shoulders as I carried her from floor to floor. In the mornings I would wake eagerly to find her at the foot of my bed, then seat her by me at the breakfast table. All day she stayed within my reach, smiling at me with an expression that almost convinced me she responded to my feelings.”
“Is there a joiner called Lanz who lives here?” he asked. “Pardon?” said a young woman with black, shining eyes who was, at that moment, washing children’s underclothes in a bucket. She pointed her wet hand towards the open door of the adjoining room.
K. thought he had stepped into a meeting. A medium sized, two windowed room was filled with the most diverse crowd of people – nobody paid any attention to the person who had just entered. Close under its ceiling it was surrounded by a gallery which was also fully occupied and where the people could only stand bent down with their heads and their backs touching the ceiling. K., who found the air too stuffy, stepped out again and said to the young woman, who had probably misunderstood what he had said, “I asked for a joiner, someone by the name of Lanz.” “Yes,” said the woman, “please go on in.” K. would probably not have followed her if the woman had not gone up to him, taken hold of the door handle and said, “I’ll have to close the door after you, no-one else will be allowed in.” “Very sensible,” said K., “but it’s too full already.” But then he went back in anyway.
From Der Prozeß (“The Trial”) by Franz Kafka (written 1915, but not published until 1925)
“The path, which ran parallel to the river, led to a little grassy clearing that was hemmed in by huddled trees; coconut, cashew, mango, bilimbi. On the edge of the clearing , with its back to the river, a low hut with walls of orange laterite plastered with mud and a thatched roof nestled close to the ground , as though it were listening to a whispered subterranean secret. The low walls of the hut were the same colour as the earth they stood on, and seemed to have germinated from a house-seed planted in the ground, from which right-angled ribs had risen and enclosed space. Three untidy banana trees grew in the little front yard that had been fenced off with panels of woven palm leaves.”
From The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1992)
“The rate of interest she paid was of course high , because of the uncertainty of her security, and the arithmetic of lovers is often sketchy and optimistic. Yet they had glorious times after that return. They determined that they would not go to a Pleasure City nor waste their days rushing through the air from one part of the world to the other, for in spite of one disillusionment, their tastes were still old fashioned. They furnished their little room with quaint old Victorian furniture, and found a shop on the forty-second floor in Seventh Way where printed books of the old sort were still to be bought. It was their pet affectation to read print instead of hearing phonographs. And when presently came a sweet little girl, to unite them further if it were possible, Elizabeth would not send her to a Creche, as the custom was, but insisted on nursing it at home. The rent of their apartments was raised on account of this singular proceeding, but they did not mind. It only meant borrowing a little more.”
“What’ll it be ?” The barman’s question was not unfriendly.
“Half of special and a Bell’s” replied Rebus. This was his gambit in any potentially rough pub. He could think of no good reason why, somehow it just seemed like the right order. He remembered the roughest drinking den he’d ever encountered, deep in a Niddrie housing scheme. He’d given his order and the barman asked, in all seriousness, whether he wanted the two drinks in the same glass. That had shaken Rebus, and he hadn’t lingered.
“Elwe, lord of the Teleri, went often through the great woods to seek out seek out Finwe, his friend in the dwellings of the Noldor; and it chanced on a time that he came alone to the starlit wood of Nan Elmoth, and there suddenly he heard the song of nightingales. Then an enchantment fell upon him, and he stood still; and afar off beyond the voices of the lomelindi he heard the voice of Melian, and it filled all his heart with wonder and desire. He forgot then utterly all his people and all the purposes of his mind, and following the birds under the shadow of the trees he passed deep into Nan Elmoth and was lost. But he came at last to a glade open to the stars, and there Melian stood; and out of the darkness he looked at her, and light of Aman was in her face.
She spoke no word; but being filled with love Elwe came to her took her hand, and straightaway a spell was laid on him, so that stood thus while long years were measured by the wheeling stars above them; and the trees of Nan Elmoth grew tall and dark before they spoke any word.”
From The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien (1977 – written circa 1917 to 1940)
“A sentimentalist is simply one who wants to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it. We think we can have our emotions for nothing. We cannot. Even the finest and most self-sacrificing emotions have to be paid for. Strangely enough, that is what makes them fine. The intellectual and emotional life of ordinary people is a very contemptible affair. Just as they borrow their ideas from a sort of circulating library of thought — the Zeitgeist of an age that has no soul — and send them back soiled at the end of each week, so they always try to get their emotions on credit, and refuse to pay the bill when it comes in. You should pass out of that conception of life. As soon as you have to pay for an emotion you will know its quality, and be the better for such knowledge. And remember that the sentimentalist is always a cynic at heart. Indeed, sentimentality is merely the bank holiday of cynicism.”
From De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1897)
16-10-2013 – the 159th anniversary of Wilde’s birth. De Produndis is, strictly speaking, not a book, but a letter to his friend Lord Alfred Douglas, written by Wilde whilst imprisoned in Reading Gaol. He died three years later in 1900.