Wednesday, November 21, 2007

EVW III's generosity

A question I forgot to ask last night was how reading My Lives changed anyone's understanding or perception of Edmund White, whether there was anything really new and revelatory in it. Given that most of us had read nothing by him before, this was perhaps not such a lost opportunity. For myself, however, the big revelation was that White hadn't been born prattling away en français. He's so smart and sophisticated I assumed without knowing it that he was fluent in French at least by the time he hit The Big Apple. It was touching to learn how late he learned to speak French and with what difficulty. (And nothing roots his upbringing so irremediably in the fifties as his having studied French at Cranbrook without ever having to speak or hear it!) This was a big surprise for me but is a part of a larger value of My Lives, which unfortunately we scarcely touched on last night: to wit, how someone from the well insulated heartland comes gradually over a life time to make contact with a larger world. It's summed up in a way by his comments on page 351: "My true friends share my feeling of being a tourist on earth, a visitor dropping in on life ... [striving] to be wordly without being blasé, to be innocent without being naive—to know everything and to take nothing or granted...." This is the highest and most admirable generosity, feeling generous about life.

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