November 11, 2009

If You Think It's Fiction...

...but it's not! It's Betty!" *

You just knew this was going to be a good one from the opening quote followed by the casual toss-off:
I was living in England, doing a couple of terms at Oxford U. on Renaissance Art, Shakespeare, Dante, and Wisdom Lit of the Old Testament. I had left a fiancé in the States...
How many fictional scribblings have I started off with some variation on that theme, the variation being fiancée? Too many to count. (Either that or the ol' reliable, "I was in 'Nam in '67, doing a second tour...", inspired by the prank calls of a friend to a local radio station.)

I caught the Oxford bug vicariously via Iris Murdoch and the ads for summer lit programs in the Sunday New York Times. I was a goner after reading an article about the girl who loved Middlemarch who fell for the boy who loved Shakespeare...
George Elliot’s Middlemarch was caught
by second-hand intoxication
from an Oxford late-life student
following Austen’s oeuvre.
It was the mid-80s, before the Internet made clipping newspaper articles superfluous. I saved articles from dozens of papers, collecting them like S&H Green Stamps. Among the most memorable described a young lady’s account of meeting a young man at an Oxford series covering English literature; she was deeply into George Eliot’s Middlemarch while he was a Bardophile. In my mind's eye she had the face of Jennifer Connelly and a body made for sin.

The moral? Days spent reading about other readers reading in Oxford can ruin you for a lifetime.

* - (Sing to ancient jingle that no one born after 1970 will recognize: "if you think it's butter, but it's not! It's Chiffon." Yes Betty Duffy quotes Anna Karenina and I quote old television commercials. Alas. And old songs too: "Nobody does it better...though sometimes I wish I would." Indeed the label on her post can be answered in the affirmative: tis a sin to write so well.)


BettyDuffy said...

This made my day. Thanks, TS!

Darwin said...

I'm sort of fascinated that you were dreaming of a reader looking like Jennifer Connelly in the mid 80s, given that she was born in 1970 and didn't enter my all-too-gratefull conciousness until I saw her in 1991's The Rocketeer, a forgotten but enjoyable movie in which a glowingly 21-year-old Connelly plays the damsel in distress.

Perhaps your premonition supports the theory, not a bad one now I think on it, that if Jennifer Connelly did not exist, we should be forced to invent her.

And this, of course, leads by diverse and wandering paths to the question: who exactly would play the young Betty in our minds eye of Oxford revelry?

TS said...

I thought of that at the time I wrote it but went ahead anyway thinking I could slip it past. She stunned me in "A Beautiful Mind" which of course was much later.

Who could play young Betty...hmm...would have to be a blonde vixen just based on the pics I've seen of the real Betty. (Versimiltude.) Maybe a smarter Carrie Underwood. Or a Alicia Silverstone.

BettyDuffy said...

"Labyrinth," mid 80s, Jennifer Connelly was 16. She surely could have made it into TS's psyche by then. And David Bowie's too--Rent it tonight!

Who should play me? I've already worked it out for you here:

TS said...

Winslet yes, why not?! In that '80s picture of you and your friend you reminded me of Debbie Harry.

Darwin said...

I'm supporting the Laura Linney idea:

Emily J. said...

Sorry, Betty's much more Kate than Laura.