Bettines letzte Liebschaften shows the now 50-ish Bettina von Arnim — once made famous by her youthful correspondence with Goethe and now an established cultural figure — traveling several hundred miles through a snow-storm to meet her youthful poet-correspondent, in hope of consummating the heretofore epistolographical affair. Once tete-a-tete in his quarters, the poet begins to duck, evade and change the subject, and when he is finally openly pinned down to declare himself, denies volubly that he finds her too old (not an ageist, he) but claims that his erstwhile passion died in response to reports of Bettina’s similar attempts made recently on two other youthful poets. She admits she has made such attempts, but says they are over and claims now to live only for him – to no avail. Take aways (as they say in college):
1. Youthful poets are happy to “do a Bettina” – i.e. establish their fame by way of amorous correspondence with senior high profile poets/poetesses – but their eagerness for literary achievement may not necessarily extend to acts of physical self-sacrifice. And:
2. Fiftyish established poetesses (and poets) – when he wrote it, Dieter Kuehn – no, not the East German footballer who is the only German of that name with an English wikipedia entry – was fiftyish himself – become desperate enough to follow every lead, several at once. Time is running out, there isn’t enough of it left to do them sequentially.
How difficult it becomes with age to find a good book to read: one has become more demanding, both because one has seen a lot and is no longer as easily impressed; but also because one’s time is shorter — the days go by faster, there are fewer of them left — so that one has grown less forgiving of those who would waste it.
This year I have read only five or six new books to the end, most of those not because they were especially good but because they were informative, the rest lie about the house, splayed open upside down, like dead sea-gulls shot down from the sky. It is perhaps on this account that I read less in general: drawing up this year’s accounts I find no more than 30 titles this year, so far, against the usual three hundred a year as recently as 2005. Books, I suppose, go the way of women: one knows how it will go; and, worse, knows too that he doesn’t really care all that much for it.