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9.1.08

À mon chevet: 1919

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
Sailing for France on the Chicago in early June was like suddenly having to give up a book he'd been reading and hadn't finished. Ned and his mother and Mr. Cooper and the literary lady considerably older than himself he'd slept with several times rather uncomfortably in her doubledecker apartment on Central Park South, and his poetry and his pacifist friends and the lights of the Esplanade shakily reflected in the Charles, faded in his mind like paragraphs in a novel laid by unfinished. He was a little seasick and a little shy of the boat and the noisy boozing crowd and the longfaced Red Cross women workers giving each other gooseflesh with stories of spitted Belgian babies and Canadian officers crucified and elderly nuns raped; inside he was coiled up tight as an overwound clock with wondering what it would be like over there.

Bordeaux, the red Garonne, the pastelcolored streets of old tall mansardroofed houses, the sunlight and shadow so delicately blue and yellow; the names of the stations all out of Shakespeare, the yellowbacked novels on the bookstands, the bottles of wine in the buvettes, were like nothing he'd imagined. All the way to Paris the faintly bluegreen fields were spattered scarlet with poppies like the first lines of a poem; the little train jogged along in dactyls; everything seemed to fall into rhyme.

-- John Dos Passos, 1919 (1931), "Richard Ellsworth Savage," pp. 73-74
In the middle of the second volume of the U.S.A. trilogy, Dos Passos introduces this character, through whom he writes about some of his own life experiences, being a student at Harvard and then volunteering for the ambulance service in Europe during World War I. Dick Savage is a poor outsider masquerading in privileged society, and Dos Passos grew up as an illegitimate child in hiding who was then given a blue-blood education.

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