Memorable literary parties on and off the page | Culture

There is no better story about the celebration of Christmas and family reunions than The dead, by James Joyce, whose protagonist is surprised during the night feeling unable to connect with others, learns an old secret about his wife, reflects on the way in which those who are no longer continue to inhabit us, sees the fall of the snow “on all the living and on the dead.” TS Eliot called it “one of the greatest short stories ever written,” but few seem to have noticed the fact that it is also a corrective to sugarcoated visions of the type of Christmas story by Charles Dickens, with his promise of redemption and his message that the damages caused by a liberalized economy can be repaired by a single individual, as if they were not the product of the more specifically social dimension of our existence.

Dickens did his best to give Christmas its present form, but his Story, which at one point thought of calling “a plea to the people of England on behalf of the children of the poor”, had the opposite effect to what it intended: its theme is child exploitation and slave labor, but the habit of giving gifts at Christmas and the irrational and excessive consumption that it encourages rather reinforces both phenomena. This is how this newspaper recalled a few days ago when it said that suppliers of brands such as Zara, Nike and H&M continue to refuse to pay their workers even the minimum wage.

Illustration from Dickens's 'Christmas Tales'.
Illustration from Dickens’s ‘Christmas Tales’.Getty

Literature is full of parties like the one that the protagonist of The dead. Of which the pretentious and fatuous Trimalción of the Satyricon, of Petronio (1st century), to, let us say, the one that the vain Fabrizio Ciba faces in Let the party begin by Niccolò Ammaniti (2011); of which it organizes The great Gatsby from the novel by Francis Scott Fitzgerald (whose original title was Trimaltion on West Egg) to which Don Alejo celebrates in the brothel of The place without limits, of José Donoso, passing through the Garden party, from Katherine Mansfield’s story, the dance in Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, and dinner at the Bavardage’s Fifth Avenue apartment in The bonfire of the vanities, by Tom Wolfe (to mention three very different texts in which, however, the celebration is equally crossed by politics, money, race and social class), the secret of the parties that the protagonist of the novel of Francisco Casavella is that they start from an almost conceptual premise: bring together a handful of people with different and often contradictory interests and backgrounds and observe what happens when they put aside social conventions thanks to alcohol, boredom, disinhibition or attraction by strangers. Study human behavior under its influence, as Marcel Proust did in the musical evening of the Marquise de Saint-Euverte in Down the swann road and Bret Easton Ellis throughout Less than zeroIt is a lousy idea (that is, a great idea to write about), and that is the reason why literature has one of its most prominent narrative devices at parties.

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But the friction between literature and parties is somewhat more extensive and goes beyond books. The Fitzgeralds and Evelyn Waugh hosted memorable parties. Pablo Neruda organized his in detail. The thirsty muse, Tom Dardis’s classic on American writers and alcohol, is packed with them. For more than 50 years, Adolfo Bioy Casares received Jorge Luis Borges practically every day. Norman Mailer used to end the parties he attended with a fist fight. American writer Sherwood Anderson died of peritonitis after swallowing a toothpick from a couch. And Maxwell Bodenheim, known as the King of the Greenwich Village bohemians, extended his attendance to one given by William Carlos Williams at his home for several months, pretending that he had broken his arm (but Williams was a doctor and, after examining him, threw him out). from home).

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2021 marked the fifty-fifth anniversary of the famous Black & White Ball, which Truman Capote orchestrated at the Plaza Hotel in New York on November 28, 1966 to celebrate the success of Cold-blooded and his entry into New York high society; spent almost half a year preparing everything, the last three months making up the guest list. EAmong those who were finally there, Andy Warhol, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marianne Moore, Frank Sinatra, Candice Bergen, Harry Belafonte, the Princess of Jaipur, Lee Radziwill and Mia Farrow, But the masquerade was the beginning of the end for Capote, who would see how his old friends turned their backs on him less than 10 years later, when he published his unexpected and scandalous Answered prayers.

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One of the most salient features of the holidays is that they tend to start badly and end worse, no matter if we are surrounded by strangers or in the company of members of our family. In the first case, they do it when enthusiasm or boredom shows its true face and we return home, alone or accompanied. In the second, when the inevitable tensions and friction in dealing with people who know us and whom we know more than we would like have already exploded and give way to a pretense of reconciliation that leaves us exhausted.

We go to parties because we really don’t have time to waste and we feel the urgent need to fool ourselves about it. In fact, it is not uncommon in party stories that someone dies at the end; Or, as in the case of Trimalción, stage his death: in some sense, all the parties are the ones that Edgar Allan Poe narrates in The Masque of the Red Death, whose characters remain secluded believing themselves safe from the plague. “Life imitates art,” said Oscar Wilde, but, as Alan Riding and Robert Hewison’s books on artistic life and literary festivals in Paris and London during World War II show, this is when the reasons to celebrate more they are scarce when doing so seems most necessary.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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