Friday, September 28, 2007

Julien Sorel - an appreciation of Maurice Leiter's poem on Brian Leiter's blog

By happenstance, I ran across the following poem by Maurice Leiter, Julian Sorel, posted as the Friday poem on Brian Leiter's blog, here. The last bit of the poem is this:

It's a good story and if I told it
Then I'm glad I told it
Let someone more detached
Provide a fitting commentary

I felt too close to Julian
To judge him
Certainly not in public

Well, it's rare that anyone captures part of my feeling for The Red and the Black so well. I've never told the story to a class. But for several years, when on vacation and hiking in the Eastern Sierras, part of my obligation while hiking was to tell a story that would keep kid Renee's mind of her feet. Rules were simple - as long as we kept moving, I had to keep telling the story; if we stopped, I stopped. This tended to slow me down and speed Renee up.

One year I told Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, which she eventually read and has largely memorized. Another year I told a story from a book I only vaguely recollected from my childhood, Trouble at Timpetil (which my wife eventually found and got for Renee and me). And one year I told the Red and the Black. We hiked about ten miles that day, and spent about seven or eight hours on the trail - out of South Lake, up Bishop Pass trail, detour to the Chocolate Lakes, nestled below The Inconsolable Mountains. Renee was entranced by the story of Julien and Mathilde. Curiously, though, she has never read the novel itself. I still read the novel - I was even reading it last night, because I thought I might take a quote from the chapter called, Another Danton? But then I got distracted by the lovely chapter wherein Mathilde says (you see, it's sitting right here on my desk),

"Whatever are you dreaming of, Sir?" There was a note of intimacy in her question, and she had come back running and was quite out of breath in her eagerness to be with him. Julien was tired of self suppression. In a moment of pride, he told her frankly what he was thinking.

So as you can tell, I am entirely with Maurice Leiter in saying "I felt too close to judge Julian/ Certainly not in public." Quite.