Rebecca West: “The Court and the Castle”

Beautiful day!

After brunch at Pork Store on Valencia, we wandered past the used bookstore on 16th. It was open! So i went in and saw a 1957 copy of “The Court and the Castle” by Rebecca West. I’m still yet to finish reading her “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon”. But knowing her books are hard to come by, i decided to buy it even though i’ve never heard of this particular title.

Started reading on our bus ride home. It was a pleasure. I almost forgot how well she writes. She has some clever response to the well-known saying “we could see far because we are sitting on a giant’s shoulder.”

Bernard of Chartres found an apt image for its cumulative powers. “We are like dwarfs,” he wrote, “seated on the shoulders of giants; we see more things than the ancients and things more distant, but this is due neither to the sharpness of our own sight, nor to the greatness of our own stature, but because we are raised and borne aloft on that giant mass.” Paradoxically, we can prove his case for him by pointing out that he wrote in the twelfth century and that we of the twentieth century have learned many things which show the advantage to be not so absolute as he thinks. It is possible that the dwarfs may in the course of time rebel against the giants, and kick and scream, and insist on getting down to the ground again, because the extended view they see from the giants’ shoulders shows them things they would prefer to ignore, and that the greater the giants the greater will be the discomfiture felt by these dwarfs who cannot cope with too much knowledge of reality.

I still haven’t gotten to her main point of the argument yet, which is supposed to be how misunderstood Hamlet has been. Yet, i’m picking up little gem along the way in her writing.

such as this:

A major work of art must change the aspect of reality, for it is an experience of the order which breaks up the present as we know it, transforming it into the past and giving us a new present, which we may like better or less than we liked the one just taken from us. It must have a bearing on the question which concerns us most deeply of all: whether the universe is good or bad.

and this:

…But liberation had not meant the free enjoyment of the arts of peace,…

and this:

…For all self-awareness is a force.

I still need to find time to finish “The Europeans”. With Rebecca West’s writing lying side by side, Luigi Barzini’ words start to lose its sharpness, and seems coarse, and less eloquent. Somehow that made me feel guilty. I really should learn not to pick up another book until i’ve finished the one at hand.

To compensate, i decided to stick to “The Europeans”, to finish it first before i indulge myself in West’s beautiful writing. Who knows, maybe i will even get to finish her “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” finally!

Now back to reading.