08 February 2006

Faithfully dangerous

Michael Dirda on Javier Marías' Written Lives:
As I say, this is a delightful volume. Marías closes it with a longish piece about his collection of portrait postcards of writers, meditating on what the various images mean to him: The young Gide, he concludes, looks like "a professional duellist"; T.S. Eliot like "a man who has spent decades combing his hair in exactly the same way." But let me finish with Marías's reflections on a photograph of Rilke:

"Rilke does not have the face one would suppose him to have, so delicate and unbearable was he in his habits and needs as a great poet. . . . His face is frankly dangerous, with those dark circles under deep-set eyes, and the sparse, drooping moustache which gives him a strangely Mongolian appearance; those cold, oblique eyes make him look almost cruel, and only his hands -- clasped as they should be, unlike Conrad's indecisive hands -- and the quality of his clothes -- an excellent tie and excellent cloth -- give him some semblance of repose or somewhat mitigate that cruelty. The truth is that he could be a visionary doctor in his laboratory, awaiting the results of some monstrous and forbidden experiment."

One glance at Rilke's picture and you'll see that Marías's description is exactly right.
(Via Maud)

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