The Life of Henry Fuckit
4 He considers the life of a dilettante
When he was about fourteen Henry was witness to an encounter that was to have an important influence on his development. In the presence of Herr Friedemann, Mr Braithwaite and young Henry, Dr Witherspoon passed the following critical judgement: "No real depth, I'm afraid. The man's a dilettante." He had just finished perusing Braithwaite's copy of the Collected Poems of Wystan Hugh Auden.
The garden-boys stood motionless in the shade, poised thoughtfully over their hoes and spades. Cook turned off the kettle and stared at the flies on the ceiling. The houseboys ceased their sweeping of invisible dust on the stoeps and gazed out across the treetops, their eyes unfocussed. Even a vast multitude of white ants, above and below ground, halted simultaneously in the acts of gnawing, scurrying, pushing and dragging, and listened attentively. Even the birds, even the very cicadas were mute. The silence was appalling.
His face the colour of reptilian underbelly, Braithwaite rose to his feet and directed his terrible gaze across the library table. His eyes protruded like those of the mudskipper, genus Periophthalmus, semi-amphibious mangrove fish given to glaring from treetops. His body was trembling as with the palsy.
"Dilly-bloody-tarnty?! Dilly-bloody-tarnty!!?" He squawked like a parrot shot through wing with pygmy arrow.
A bird chirped, a cicada began to zing, and there was movement. Once more the world came alive with vibrations, oscillations and resonance. Henry closed Gray's Anatomy and went straight to the good old, two-volume, complete-with-magnifier, OED.
From his seat Witherspoon murmured absently "Dee, eye, ell, (only one ell), ee, tee, tee, (two tee's), ay, enn, tee, ee."
Henry breathed heavily all over the rectangular magnifying glass and polished it with his snot-rag.
'A person who cultivates the arts as an amateur.' He
gasped. 'A person who takes an interest in a subject merely as a pastime
and without serious study.' Holy-moly! 'A dabbler.' GCM!
It might have been a sense of his own worth that nurtured the maverick in him. Unselfconsciously he was able to follow his own inclinations, oblivious of any requirements to conform. Thus, when he chanced upon this term 'dilettante', he looked at it with unclouded curiosity. It had been intended as an insult, of that he was aware. But when he considered the definition and visualised the character, the lifestyle, he saw nothing to be despised. In fact, the more he thought about it the more the role appealed. What was wrong with dabbling? What was wrong with taking an interest in a subject merely as a pastime? His education at Ingachini had already indicated to him that life itself was a pastime and not worth serious study. The trick would be to devise a plan that would allow him to pursue his interests without having to concern himself with the distraction of having to earn his bread by the sweat of the brow.
In the formative years he received no vocational guidance, nor did any well-meaning soul warn him of the danger in not making a suitable choice of career. However, on several occasions he was asked what he was going to be in life. Each time he took this question seriously and gave it some thought before replying. Because it was such a troublesome question, such a vastly open one, the process of answering it was lengthy. Even if the answer was always the same, it was preceded by varying degrees of confusion, anguish and irritation. The invariable answer was, "I really don't know." Invariable, that is, until the brave bold day when he smiled brightly and spoke with such self-assured candour.
"I'm going to be a dilettante."
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