Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.
from the very beginning of ‘The Secret History’ I sat up and took notice. apart from the incredibly lush writing, littering of literary allusions like treasure, perfectly paced chronology (the narrator relates the story very authentically, with apologies for the haze and forgeries of memory), it reminded me endlessly of The Great Gatsby, a book that I remember very fondly despite its manifold flaws and sentimentality. Superficially there are plenty of things that are similar: a perpetual alcohol-induced miasma; invented histories; socioeconomic differences; but most importantly to me, a fundamentally detached narrator, who despite his horror and moral judgment of the events happening around him, remains passive and hence a part of them; with a tendency to romanticise even the objectively terrible. It was with some joy that I read that The Great Gatsby was one of Richard’s favourite books.
“Y’know,” he said, “Julian is like one of those people that’ll pick all his favorite chocolates out of the box and leave the rest.” This seems rather enigmatic on the face of it, but actually I cannot think of a better metaphor for Julian’s personality. It is similar to another remark made to me once by George Laforgue, on an occasion when I had been extolling Julian to the skies. “Julian,” he said curtly, “will never be scholar of the very first rate, and that is because he is only capable of seeing things on a selective basis.”
When I disagreed- strenuously- and asked what was wrong with focusing one’s entire attention on only two things, if those two things were Art and Beauty, Laforgue replied: “There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty- unless she is wed to something more meaningful- is always superficial. It is not that your Julian chooses solely to concentrate on certain, exalted things; it is that he chooses to ignore others equally as important.”
It’s funny. In retelling these events, I have fought against a tendency to sentimentalize Julian, to make him seem very saintly- basically to falsify him- in order to make our veneration of him seem more explicable; to make it seem something more, in short, than my own fatal tendency to try to make interesting people good.