Following the Nobel Prize for Literature presents the dedicated reader with a remarkable, sometimes peculiar reading list. That you have found your way to this blog indicates one of two things about you: either you are a friend whom I have shamed into visiting my site, or you have, over the course of your reading life, nurtured some affinity for the works of this always quirky, often magnificent group of writers.
My plan is this: Once a month I will give you a chance to take your own knowledge out for a joy ride. I’ll present you with a passage by one of the writers on that redoubtable Scandinavian list. You try to guess who it is. Perhaps you will be familiar with the passage. In that case, share what you know. Perhaps you’ll be at a loss as to just what or who you are reading. This is most to be desired because it will be your chance to run with your hunches, speculate wildly, give an unprejudiced response. A piece of writing may strike you, for whatever reason, as particularly French, or German, or the work of a woman, or modern (or modernist) or a bit archaic. Go with these. I’m much more interested in your mental peregrinations than in correct answers. At the end of the passage I’ll give you a short list of questions. Use them playfully, like queries on a game-show quiz, or as prompts for other kinds of responses. You can also phrase your responses as further questions, for me or other respondents. Ask for hints.
Here, then, is your first passage. It is from a famous work by one of the better known laureates. In the future, I’ll push your knowledge a bit harder, giving you excerpts from some of those early and mid-20th century writers whose reputations have taken a holiday on the back slopes of more famous literary mountains. But for now, I give you this, by a writer I hope you have read. If you haven’t, I extend my love and compassion to you, and urge you to rectify what is in your power to change.
After the first letter that she carried to the telegraph office with an ember of revenge against her own destiny, she had allowed an almost daily exchange of messages in what appeared to be casual encounters on the street, but she did not have the courage to permit a conversation, no matter how banal and fleeting it might be. Still, after three months she realized that her niece was not the victim of a girlish fancy, as it had seemed at first, and that her own life was threatened by the fire of love. The truth was that Escolastica Daza had no other means of support except her brother’s charity, and she knew that his tyrannical nature would never forgive such a betrayal of his confidence. But when it was time for the final decision, she did not have the heart to cause her niece the same irreparable grief that she had been obliged to nurture ever since her youth, and she permitted her to use a strategy that allowed her the illusion of innocence. The method was simple: Fermina Daza would leave her letter in some hiding place along her daily route from the house to the Academy, and in that letter she would indicate to Florentino Ariza where she expected to find his answer. Florentino Ariza did the same. In this way, for the rest of the year, the conflicts in Aunt Escolastica’s conscience were transferred to baptisteries in churches, holes in trees, and crannies in ruined colonial fortresses. Sometimes their letters were soaked by rain, soiled by mud, torn by adversity, and some were lost for a variety of other reasons, but they always found a way to be in touch with each other again.
Here are your questions. Answer any or all of them.
1. Who is this writer?
2. What work is this passage from?
3. Do you know where this writer is from? What cultural elements show up in this passage that might provide a clue about the author’s nationality?
4. Anything else you would like to say about this passage, the writer, or, if you’re confident you’ve read this before, your memories of this work?
Have fun with this. If none of you are able to guess what or who this is, I will consider you all impoverished, cave in and tell you, but with a strong admonishment to get to your reading. I hope you’ll be back in early September for the next Nobel Literature quiz.