Tina Fox and I walked along Beechgrove yesterday delivering invitations to take part in MBE's Open Gardens event. Jonquils - tiny dwarf daffodils - were out, yellow crocus, hamamelis mollis (wintersweet), polyanthus, viburnum, and, outside one house in the gravel by the south-facing wall, some fascinating small, spindly, black flowers that I did not recognise. In interviews about his new exhibition, David Hockney has mentioned the extraordinary thrill to be experienced by watching spring arrive in Britain. This year promises to be a corker. Having said that, I see that it has just started to snow outside.
Belated birthday wishes of yesterday (courtesy of The Writers Almanac) to French writer Stendhal, born Marie-Henri Beyle in Grenoble, France (1783), a psychological novelist more interested in his characters' inner lives than in descriptions of them or their surroundings.
Stendhal graduated from public school in his little town of Grenoble, went to Paris, got a job with Napoleon's War Ministry and worked his way up, living all over Europe and falling in love with women along the way. In Milan, in his late teens, he fell in love with Angela Pietragrua, a 23-year-old woman who was the mistress of one of his superior officers. He later turned her into the character of Gina Pietranera in The Charterhouse of Parma (1839).
He later fell in love with Matilde Viscontini Dembowski, the wife of a Polish general, who was smart, beautiful, and totally unattainable. When she went on a vacation, Stendhal followed her across Italy, trying to disguise himself in green glasses, loitering around the park where she walked, getting himself invitations to the same parties she would be at, and growing jealous every time she flirted with another man. She let him come sit in her parlor and talk to her, but nothing more; she limited his visits to once every two weeks, which nearly drove him crazy.
Stendhal never managed to change Matilde's mind, but he used all the emotion of his unrequited love to write the book On Love (1822). In it he details the seven stages of falling in love, from admiration to pleasure to doubt to what he calls "crystallization." He wrote: "Indeed, half -- the most beautiful half -- of life is hidden from one who has not loved passionately."
It was also the birthday yesterday of Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, born in Castries, Saint Lucia (1930). He grew up reading British poets like William Wordsworth, John Milton, and Andrew Marvell. Walcott got a scholarship to study in Jamaica. From there, he studied theater in the United States, and then went back to the Caribbean and founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop. He taught at Boston University, and became good friends with Robert Lowell, whom he had first met when Lowell and his family visited Trinidad. In 1990 Walcott published his epic poem Omeros, a re-telling of Homer's Odyssey set on St. Lucia.
In 1992, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. His most recent book of poetry is White Egrets (2010).
He said: "I come from a place that likes grandeur; it likes large gestures; it is not inhibited by flourish; it is a society of physical performance; it is a society of style. [...] I grew up in a place in which if you learned poetry, you shouted it out. Boys would scream it out and perform it and flourish it. If you wanted to approximate that thunder or that power of speech, it couldn't be done by a little modest voice in which you muttered something to someone else. I come out of that society of the huge gesture. And literature is like that."