Johnson to Wolfe; Wolfe to Johnson by Hannah Sheldon-Dean


Samuel Johnson to Tom Wolfe

Passage from Johnson's Rambler No. 180, paragraphs 1-3

Translation of above passage to Wolfe's prose:

Rich old panther trucks his kid, about 18 years old, down to this college to get him "educated." Being a cunning old crock, the guy sets up a spread like you wouldn't believer, all sugar-clotted pastries and thick, creamy doughnuts and exotic, syrupy stuff. And all the professors come skulking out of their libraries and shuffle their arthritic, wrinkled feet over to the table where the old codger feeds them and asks these probing questions about their research. Just like a lump of wax left out in the sun, these hunchbacked academics melt away and tell the rich panther everything he wants to know. Like about the time that they knocked over their lab partner's Petri tube or stole some other squint-eye's manuscript. So the kid's father, disgusted as anything, packs up shop and skedaddles, taking the kid with him, and from then on, he never says another word about "education."

People go around thinking about how everyone else's advantages are so much more valuable than they actually are. All these white collar tax man types and their wives griping about how intellectuals have this high and mighty moral eminence that puts them ahead even when learning has less than nothing to do with the situation at hand. Well, it's easy to imagine how surprised they are when they realize that these old Archimedean types don't have the whole world falling down over itself to please them. It kind of takes away the charm.

All the intellectuals shuffling around in their lint-speckled slippers, muttering to themselves; it's usually of no consequence that they are so out of touch, but once in a while, those Ciceros and Sophocleses really burn out. It's not like any swollen-head can learn everything there is to know, so obviously, stuff gets left out. It's like they never bother to, you know, think about themselves, to have fun. Finding happiness is as well, very mysterioso.

Tom Wolfe to Samuel Johnson

Passage from Wolfe's "The Pump House Gang," pages 38-39

Translation of above passage into Johnson's prose:

By the nature of life's own course, independent of its wishes and at the mercy of time, there is a limit upon the number of persons who might remain in age as they are in youth. This fact pervades as the primary trouble with age segregation. One, no matter the fortitude of will, does ultimately encroach upon, and eventually overtake, the horror age of 25. As there have been copious members of the lifestyle in question dating so far back as 1958, a considerable quantity of these youths have subsequently elapsed the line of segregation. In accordance with the continuing passage of time, it is inevitable that the population of men and women, unwilling to relinquish their hold on the mysterious mystique of said lifestyle shall continue to rise, and the stretch of land, once alive with lithe young bodies, will bloat and bog with the bleached carcasses of puzzled, resistant adults.

Pathetic, though it is, to observe their membership wane and slowly expire, it is understood that the aging group members can not conceive of living any other life. It is possible, and in fact, not beyond the scope of a casual observer, to notice particular persons, advanced nearly to the age of segregation, as fully included members. However, the lord's chronometer will ensure that these participants too shall one day advance to irrefutable adulthood.

Among those, still exceedingly shy of their time of extinction, it is, in a sense, disconcerting to observe their mannerisms and behaviors, with the knowledge that their disaffected bliss may be mere months from its downfall. It is apparent in the case of two such youths, who, upon the realization that the end of their current lifestyles was drawing close, took it upon themselves to terminate their own lives rather than to face the inglorious years that awaited them with the promise of a deteriorating physical self.


Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses

2 October 2007