Inverted Commas 17: a Lust for Books
Freddy recognised the truth of what he said. She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books.
Freddy is the 14-year-old Fredegonde Webster from Robertson Davies’ 1951 novel Tempest-Tost, the first volume in his Salterton Trilogy. She has heard that the late Dr Savage’s library of “4300 volumes of Philosophy, Theology, Travel, Superior Fiction and Miscellaneous” is to be offered gratis to clergy of all denominations on a particular day, with the proviso that they must remove books personally. And now her lust for books has been fired up.
As well as being the date of Tove Jansson‘s birthday every 9th August is designated Book Lovers Day. I cannot let any further time pass without belatedly marking the occasion with further relevant quotes from the sixth chapter of the Canadian writer’s novel.
Solomon Bridgetower has just ventured the opinion that the deceased scholar’s shelves will be stripped. “Free books to preachers will be like free booze to politicians; they’ll scoop the lot, without regard for quality. You mark my words.” The author adds his commentary:
This passion is more common, and more powerful, than most people suppose. Book lovers are thought by unbookish people to be gentle and unworldly, and perhaps a few of them are so. But there are others who will lie and scheme and steal to get books as wildly and unconscionably as the dope-taker in pursuit of his drug.
I’m almost sure I’m not in that second category. Almost sure.
They may not want the books to read immediately, or at all; they want them to possess, to range on their shelves, to have at their command.
Now this may well be me.
They want books as a Turk is thought to want concubines—not to be hastily deflowered, but to be kept at their master’s call, and enjoyed more often in thought than in reality. Solly was in a measure a victim of this unscrupulous passion, but Freddy was wholly in the grip of it.
Although this was written in the mid 20th century, when political correctness was not yet a thing, I’m pretty sure Davies is being tongue-in-cheek here, though I gather that elsewhere — in letters and essays — he displays unPC prejudices aplenty. But his reference to a lust for books as an unscrupulous passion is certainly a deplorable trait I recognise in myself.
So, on this day following Book Lovers Day, I pose this question: do you see yourself reflected at all in these descriptions?