December 26, 2011
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by A. S. Byatt

Dolly keeps a secret

Safer than a Friend

Dolly's silent sympathy

Lasts without end.

I was reading Armistead Maupin’s new Tale of the City, Mary Ann In Autumn and for some reason recalled these wonderful lines of Byatt’s invented fairy poetess, Christabel LaMotte. This delightful book imagines the lives of two invented Victorians, writes their work, and imagines the scholarship that has sprung up around them. In my earlier readings, I had not realized how sharply drawn the modern academics are, or how scathing; every entrance of Byatt’s prototypical Young American Academic, Dr. Leonora Stern, makes me cringe over memories of my own blunders. Even the invented poetry is wonderful: that silent sympathy sells the whole thing.

I like things clean about me

Starched and gophered frill

What is done exactly

Cannot be done ill.