Sunday, September 4, 2011

More Tidbits from Alan Bennett: On Sermons and M.F.K. Fisher

Excerpts from Alan Bennett's diaries in his Untold Stories (NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005):

"12 July 2000: I don't hear many sermons nowadays but they don't seem to have changed much--viz. the Archbishop of Canterbury at yesterday's service for the Queen Mother: 'She is someone who can help us to travel that country we call life'" (p. 272).

"28 August 2000, L'Espiessac [France]: Pick out from this holiday bookcase As They Were, a book of travel pieces by M.F.K. Fisher, and read 'About Looking Alone at a Place,' an account of a winter visit to Arles in 1971.  I am shamed by its exactitude of expression and, though the language is simple, her ability to hit on a phrase.  She's like Richard Cobb in finding out the ordinary rhythms of a place, its habits and the flavour of the small lives lived there--waiters (and the shoes of the waiters), hotel receptionists, attendants in museums.  Born in 1908 and now presumably dead.  I have never heard of her" (p. 278).

About sermons: quite.  I, too, don't hear many nowadays.  The few I hear are unfortunately in the vein of the one excerpted by Bennett: prosaically intent on saying nothing at all about the real world in which we live, while talking at length in doltish platitudes about that large insubstantial nothing so beloved of religious authorities--"life."  Dull as dishwater.  And intent on being irrelevant.  Except, of course, when the subject is homosexual anything--gay people, gay lives, gay rights, gay futures, gay jobs and gay housing.  Then, those authority figures can discover relevance with amazing alacrity.

About M.F.K. Fisher: I'm delighted Bennett finds her a masterful writer.  If I had to compile a list of the top ten prose stylists of the English language in the 20th century, she (and Patrick Leigh Fermor) would be close to the top of my list.

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