Actually, it's not so much Heaven (which is intellectual and unimaginable) as a sort of Eden, where all practical problems and responsibilities have vanished.
There's only one Illyria, and though it's a wonderful subject, mobody will ever write about it. Because if they do (as Caroline Kent has somehow made clear), they can never come back.
At Illyria one becomes one's real self, the person one would be in a decent world.
There's a special style of behavior there - everyone wipes his mouth more often and more tactfully, and takes smaller bites. Above all, there's a special type of conversation: a kind of formal jocularity, lighthearted but (in some hands at least) heavy-handed. I've never heard anything like it outside of Illyria, but I've read it in books - the humorous scenes in Edith Wharton, or early James. There are certain prescribed subjects: local history, geography, botany, and meteorology; and news (but not scandal) of former guests. The names of writers, artists, and musicians who have never been here aren't mentioned.
Gerry's published work is as frank as any modern poet's, which of course is saying a good deal. When I heard him read at Trinity, I think he used every four-letter word there is; and nobody protested. But the social rules on obscenity have been reversed since I was in college. A writer can now print, or declaim in a public hall, lines he would hesitate to utter in ordinary society.
At home, whatever happens or whomever I meet, a part of me always remains detached and even amused, observing it all. No matter how I feel, somewhere up in the back of my mind is the writer taking notes, remembering dialogue. (As Philip Roth is reported to have said once, "We're lucky: nothing truly bad can happen to us. It's all material.")
This Eden isn't designed for human beings, though. Instead, we're all, temporarily, gods - busy creating.
I realize who Charlie is now. (I thought he looked familiar yesterday, but decided he was only a familiar type.) He's C. Ryan Baxter, who wrote The Red Moon, that experimental novel about the American Revolution (with Marxist overtones) that won so many prizes just after the war. I suppose I thought, if I thought anything, that he must be dead. Instead he's here at Illyria, hiding from his ex-wife and other creditors. Leonard told me later, after the others had left, what's happened to him since 1950.
LEONARD: A couple of flops - trouble with the Senate Investigating Committee, compounded by the fact that Baxter's probably the most thick-headedly sincere political innocent who ever held a card, if ever he did hold a card. Writer's block... A bad drinking problem... A ruinous divorce, which left him owing more alimony per year than he can make in five now; but his wife was a stupid beautiful girl who convinced herself and the judge that Charlie had stopped writing bestsellers deliberately in order to impoverish her, and could start again any time he wanted to...
After that? Well, he's had jobs in little colleges... A few stories and poems in little magazines. He's got a couple of grants, but that was a while ago - foundations prefer writers on their way up.
Now he's on the wagon again, at least. He has this job here, free room and board for three months and a chance to pay off some of his debts - maybe finish the novel he's been working on for the last five years.
JANET: Do you think he will?
LEONARD: I don't know. I certainly hope so.
That looks harmless written down, but it wasn't; it was coarse and dismissive.
Of course, it's been said before, though not in that tone of voice. What's occasionally meant (and sometimes also said) is that I look a little like pictures of Virginia Woolf - a less fine-drawn, less neurasthenic, middle-class American version. (Pictures of me, on the other hand, seldom catch any such resemblance, perhaps because the camera adds another ten pounds to the ten I must already have on her.) Somebody asked once if that was why I decided to become a writer. "Not at all," I replied indignantly. "Long before I even heard of V. W., I wanted to be a writer." Quite true, but so do a lot of young girls. And who can say it didn't influence me when I found out? Standing in the library stacks at Smith, with Daiches's biography open in my hand, feeling a deep sentimental shock of recognition...
When people in Westford say I look like a writer, though, my first reaction is to check my stockings for runs, my hands for (p. 29) ink - because that's what they usually mean. They've seen, or imagined they've seen, some flaw in my disguise as the conservatively attractive, weel-dressed wife of an insurance executive. Which isn't a disguise anyhow, but half of the truth.
A lady writer. And why should I mind that, anyway? Do I mind being a writer? Or being a lady?
It's remarkable really what diverse and naturally antagonistic types have lived together at Illyria for weeks and months as peaceably as the animals in an Edward Hicks painting: Norman Podhoretz and Ned Rorem; James Baldwin and Louise Bogan. Interesting too that Caroline has avoided publicity so successfully that one never reads or hears of the place. There is an odd mist over it, which one not only feels but sooner or later learns to exude. One wouldn't deny having been here if one were asked, but otherwise one just doesn't mention it to outsiders.
Finished a first draft of the ghost story this morning. It's too short, only nine pages, but I think not bad. I've done in two days what would have taken weeks at home. And besides that, I feel calmer, happier, nicer - most of all, normal. Though I'm here because I'm a writer, paradoxically it's only here that I don't have to be "a writer." I can be an ordinary person again, not what I've been in Westford for the last six months: a sort of dangerous freak.