Absalom, Absalom!, first paragraph and page.


From a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them. There was a wistaria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away: and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or not husband none knew, sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children’s feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless, out of the biding and dreamy and victorious dust.

Leave it to ol’ Faulksy to entropy his first paragraph into the entire first page (and then some) with only two sentences, but I suppose that just lightens our load a bit on this rendition of Mrs. Graham‘s famous literary exercise. After looking up what a wistaria vine is, the beautiful purple plant gives us only our second splash of colour after the morbidly yellow window blinds. We’ll take it! Certainly when the third splash of colour is Miss’ “eternal black,” which carries with it the sense of rigid death, restless anguish, and seemingly infinite pain, or at least psychogenic burden. Compared to the yellow and black, the sparrow-tempting purple is the only hope, optimism, and life in this grim picture. One already feels for Quentin, who may well be just a boy given his vivid imagination, for being saddled alongside the Angel of Death in this journey through time and place.

Now, how can dust be victorious ? From dust to dust, ashes to ashes, and all that ? It would seem so. It’s drop-dead imagery in any event. You also have to admire Miss Coldfield’s posture. Clearly she hails from a time and place before the rampant use of laptops and smartphones. Ain’t no one got posture like that anymore! Overall, there’s a painterly quality to this prose. You can feel the masterful strokes filling in all the little details you’d miss at a glance and only catch with hours upon hours of experienced observation. Every piece of the world is connected and alive. It’s all personified, recognised, and immortalised. Even the littlest emotions take on a life force of their own. It’s as if the author could stare at a featureless desert and write 500 pages recounting the chronicles of the stalwart grains of sand and their countless adventures.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be listening to the sublime Grover Gardner read me the rest of this story. If you’re going to while away the days filled with something other than out-and-out bellyaching, who better to serenade you ?

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