Niels Lyhne

On his second day in the field hospital, Niels grew more and more despondent from the nauseating stench in the room, and a yearning for fresh air and the desire to live had become strangely intertwined in his mind.  And yet there had been much beauty in his life, he thought, when he recalled the fresh breeze on the shore at home, the cool rustling in the beech forests of Sjaelland, the pure mountain air of Clarens, the gentle evening zephyr of Lago Di Garda.


But whenever he thought about the people, his mind would feel sick again.  He called them up before him, one by one, and all of them walked past him and left him alone, and not one of them remained.  But how had he held on to them?  Had he been faithful?  It was simply that he had been slower to let go.  Not, that was not it at all. It was the great sadness that a soul is always alone.  Any belief in the merging of one soul with another is a lie.  Not the mother who took you onto her lap, not a friend, not the wife who rested next to your heart …

From Niels Lyhne, by Jens Peter Jacobsen (1880)


A couple of good things

Henry James’ reaction to a first novel sent him by a friend:

“I am such a fanatic myself on the subject of form, style, the evidence of intention and meditation, of chiseling and hammering out in literary things that I am afraid I am rather a cold-blooded judge, rather likely to be offensive to a young story-teller on the question of quality.  I am not sure that yours strikes me as quite so ferociously literary as my ideal.”

God, I love Henry James.

(Not frequently depicted as the bicycling type.)


“I suppose that is why I write, in order to recompose events, to make them sharper, funnier, than they really were.  Above all, funnier.  I write to be hard.  I do not intend to spare any feelings, except, of course, my own.”

The narrator of Anita Brookner’s 1983 novel, “Look At Me”,  who I suspect is riding for a major fall.

Trying to spare my own feelings has taken me up many writing no-thoroughfares, so I recognized  myself in this.