Я читаю десятую книгу в серии романов Патрика О'Брайана, The Far Side of the World, и сегодня утром прочитал отрывок, в котором Стивен Мэтьюрин, один из главных героев, по просьбе Мартина (капеллана корабля, разделяющего любовь Мэтьюрина к естественной истории) высказывает свое мнение о том, как в письме выразить предложение брака:
Marriage, its sorrow and woe, its fragile joys, filled his mind and he was not altogether surprised when Martin, speaking in a low, confidential tone, told him that he had long been attached to the daughter of a parson, a young lady whose brother he used to botanize with when they were at the university together. She was considerably above him in the worldly consequence and her friends looked upon him with disapproval; nevertheless, in view of his now very much greater affluence, his income of £211.8.0 a year, he thought of asking her to be his wife. Yet there were many things that troubled him: one was that her friends might not regard even £211.8.0 as wealth; another was his appearance - Maturin had no doubt noticed that he had only one eye - which must necessarily tell against him; and still another was the difficulty of setting out his mind in a letter. Martin was not unaccustomed to composition, but he had been able to do no better than this: he hoped Maturin would be so good as to glance over it and give him his candid opinion.А несколько часов спустя, без всякой связи с этой книгой, я прошел по ссылке из одного веблога и прочитал воспоминания Гарри Мэтьюза, американского писателя, члена французской литературной группы OULIPO, о том, как он познакомился со своей второй женой, французской писательницей Marie Chaix:
The sun beat down upon the foretop; the paper curled in Stephen's hand; his heart sank steadily. Martin was a thoroughly amiable man, a man of wide reading, but when he came to write he mounted upon a pair of stilts, unusually lofty stilts, and staggered along at a most ungracious pace, with an occasional awkward lurch into colloquialism, giving a strikingly false impression of himself. Stephen handed the letter back and said, 'It is very elegantly put indeed, with some uncommon pretty figures; and I am sure it would touch any lady's heart; but my dear Martin, you must allow me to say that I believe your whole approach to be mistaken. You apologize from beginning to end; from start to finish you are exceedingly humble. There is a quotation that hovers just beyond the reach of my recollection together with the name of its author, to the effect that even the most virtuous woman despises an impotent man; and surely all self-depreciation runs along the same unhappy road? I am convinced that the best way of making an offer of marriage is the shortest: a plain, perfectly legible letter reading My dear Madam, I beg you will do me the honour of marrying me: I remain, dear Madam, with the utmost respect, your humble obedient servant. That goes straight to the heart of the matter. On a separate half-sheet one could perhaps add a statement of one's income, for the consideration of the lady's friends, together with an expression of willingness to make any settlements they may think fit.'
'Perhaps so,' said Martin, folding his paper away. 'Perhaps so. I am very much obliged to you for the suggestion.' But it required no very great penetration to see that he was not convinced, that he still clung to his carefully balanced periods, his similes, his metaphors and his peroration. He had shown his letter to Maturin partly as a mark of confidence and esteem, being sincerely attached to him, and partly so that Maturin might praise it, possibly adding a few well-turned phrases; for like most normally constituted writers Martin had no use for any candid opinion that was not wholly favourable.
The photograph of Marie Chaix on the back cover revealed a woman of thirty-two and great attractiveness. When John Ashbery first saw her, he remarked how pretty she was, then corrected himself immediately: “No, not pretty — beautiful.” Her beauty was not that of any stereotype: strong-featured, full of energy and passion. From the start I fantasized about having one of my noncommittal affairs with her. I knew ahead of time that I was safe from any deeper involvement, since she was married and the mother of two little girls. What I did not know was that she had never cheated on her less-faithful husband but now felt inclined to indulge in a small infidelity of her own.Все.
Our interest in one another had preceded our meeting. Two months before, in the hope of one day winning her, I had composed a four-page handwritten letter intended for her, in which I deployed every seductive wile my experience as a writer could supply. I was pleased with the results and confident that they would dispose Marie to think of me as someone more than her translator.
It then occurred to me that this was a shabby way to approach the woman I had come to know in her book: an intensely serious and compassionate human being who had generously taken her readers into the intimate, moving world of her feelings. I tore up my handwritten letter and replaced it with a page containing a dozen typed lines of a formality for which written French is perhaps uniquely capable (“Madame, I have the honor and pleasure of being the translator of your admirable book…”). This was the letter I mailed her.
Marie’s reaction was not what I had foreseen. She later told me that her first impulse was to drop everything and get on the next train to Venice. She wanted to see this mysterious American who had unexpectedly appeared in her life. It was as though my original letter had been encrypted in its typewritten replacement. (This incidentally delighted me as definitive proof of the superiority of classical restraint in writing to the rhetoric of expressionistic overtness.)