Last week's short story was nicely multilayered and there was much to think about. I enjoyed this week's story, "The English Pupil", but it seemed to have a little less depth than the first. Still well done, it was almost more of a sketch of a great and famous man and quite melancholic in tone. The pupil in question is that of 18th century botanist, Carl Linnaeus. Despite the title of the story it was less about the pupil and more about the scientist.
"His once-famous memory was nearly gone, eroded by a series of strokes--he forgot where he was and what he was doing; he forgot the names of plants and animals; he forgot faces, places, dates. Sometimes he forgot his own name. His mind, which had once seemed to hold the whole world, had been occupied by a great dark lake that spread father every day and around which he tiptoed gingerly."
In a sleigh, in cold crisp air he watches the landscape speed by reminiscing over his long life. It's to his country estate that he is traveling. He hasn't much time left to live and he hasn't much happiness left, but this is his one last pleasure to be in the countryside he explored thinking back upon all the pupils he taught and the others, so many, that he can no longer remember who journeyed to meet and work with this great man.
"On this tour of Lappland with the whole world still waiting to be named, he's believed that he and everyone he loved would live forever."
"Now he had named almost everything and everyone knew his name. How clear and simple was the system of his nomenclature! Two names, like human names: a generic name common to all species of one genus; a specific name distinguishing differences. he liked names that clearly described a feature if the genus: Potamogeton, by the river; Dorsera, like a dew. Names that honored botanists also pleased him."
Imagine a world so new and fresh and unnamed. A world with so many secrets and mysteries yet to be unraveled. A world where everything must still be named. Imagine it all at your fingertips and your ideas and explorations and your choice of names to be forever after to be used by the whole world and for those names to carry on through time. The story may have been quietly constructed and perhaps less layered than the previous one, but still Andrea Barrett maybe offers the reader more to think about than at first glance! The beauty of reading short stories (and then thinking about them in order to write about them on a hot Sunday afternoon). A good story always offers some little surprise. A gift to the reader!
"Nature was a cryptogram and the scientific method a key; nature was a labyrinth and this method the thread of Ariadne. Or the world was an alphabet written in God's hand, which he, Carl Linnaus, had been called to decipher. One of his pupils had come to see him, one of the pupils he'd sent to all the corners of the world and called, half-jokingly, his apostles."
So beautiful is Barrett's writing! Nest week's story is "The Littoral Zone". I can't wait to see where it takes me.
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I can't think why I have not yet read any of Tessa Hadley's longer fiction as I have loved each short story I have read by her (here and here). This week's New Yorker story is another by Hadley and I loved it as well. "Silk Brocade" is set in 1953 and then further along in the 1970s. One of those moments in time when something happens, maybe a little life shifting and and tragic, and then is reflected upon later in life. Only in this case, it is a daughter's life that is perhaps subtly changed because of those events. You can read the story for yourself here (go on--nudge, nudge and then come back and let me know what you think--it's not a long story, less than half and hour of your life, and you'll be all the better for it!). And if you want to know more about the story, read Hadley's Q&A here. Another wonderful story with more to it than meet's the eye upon first reading.