A gloomy man loses a friend
I recently finished "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," a trilogy about life in nineteenth century gold-rush Australia. OK, I did gallop through the end of the third book, I must admit, because I couldn't stand the way the author put the screws to her hero: she finished him off with some kind of vertigo-Alzheimer's-stroke-insanity thing on top of his lifelong depression, grandiosity, and restless narcissism, which problems I thought between them made for enough of a punishment.
This prickly protagonist evoked an uncomfortable perspective on my own bad habits. I've been feeling sad lately about lost friends, missed opportunities, disappointments that become partings.
The whole book's online. Here are some excerpts from the first of the three books, Australia Felix, Part 4 chapter 7:
"In Purdy the one person he had been intimate with passed out of his life. There was nobody to take the vacant place. He had been far too busy of late years to form new friendships: what was left of him after the day’s work was done was but a kind of shell ... it grew ever harder to fit yourself to other people: your outlook had become too set, your ideas too unfluid. Hence you clung the faster to ties formed in the old, golden days, worn though these might be to the thinness of a hair....
"Better it would assuredly be to have some one to fall back on: it was not good for a man to stand so alone ... People came and went, tried their luck, failed, and flitted off again ... What was the use of troubling to become better acquainted with a person, when, just as you began really to know him, he was up and away? At home, in the old country, a man as often as not died in the place where he was born; and the slow, eventless years, spent shoulder to shoulder, automatically brought about a kind of intimacy.
"He had no talent for friendship, and he knew it; indeed, he would even invert the thing, and say bluntly that his nature had a twist in it which directly hindered friendship; and this, though there came moments when he longed, as your popular mortal never did, for close companionship. Sometimes he felt like a hungry man looking on at a banquet, of which no one invited him to partake, because he had already given it to be understood that he would decline.
"And even more than the friend, he would miss the friendship and all it stood for: this solid base of joint experience; this past of common memories into which one could dip as into a well; this handle of “Do you remember?” which opened the door to such a wealth of anecdote. From now on, the better part of his life would be a closed book to any but himself; there were allusions, jests without number, homely turns of speech, which not a soul but himself would understand. The thought of it made him feel old and empty; affected him like the news of a death."
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