Henry Green: “I forget everything I read.”
I love the brutal honesty in Henry Green’s answer to this Paris Review interviewer’s question.
No one, it seems, has been able to satisfactorily relate your work to any source of influence. I recall that Mr. Pritchett has tried to place it in the tradition of Sterne, Carroll, Firbank, and Virginia Woolf—whereas Mr. Toynbee wished to relate it to Joyce, Thomas Wolfe, and Henry Miller. Now, are there styles or works that you feel have influenced yours?
I really don’t know. As far as I’m consciously aware, I forget everything I read at once, including my own stuff.
How refreshing. Here I thought I was the only reader with a bad memory.
It reminds me of when you see a young up-and-coming band, and they make sure to list all the classic bands that influenced them—you know, Zeppelin, The Stones, The Who, The Beatles, and so on—in their official bios.
And, then, there’s the guy who’s like: “Yeah, I guess I like those bands, but I’m not even sure what songs they sing.” The outrage! Surely he’s been heavily influenced by Pete Townsend’s riffs and Mick Jagger’s vocals, right?
Well, maybe not.
And, in the case of Henry Green, he pretty much just says, “Yeah, I forget stuff after I read it, and I don’t even know what I wrote about this morning.”
Again, that’s refreshing. The man reads, and the man writes.
And then there’s this little gem from the interview as well:
I’ve heard it remarked that your work is “too sophisticated” for American readers, in that it offers no scenes of violence—and “too subtle,” in that its message is somewhat veiled. What do you say?
Unlike the wilds of Texas, there is very little violence over here. A bit of child killing, of course, but no straight shootin’. After fifty, one ceases to digest; as someone once said: “I just ferment my food now.” Most of us walk crabwise to meals and everything else. The oblique approach in middle age is the safest thing. The unusual at this period is to get anywhere at all.
And how about “subtle”?
I don’t follow. Suttee, as I understand it, is the suicide—now forbidden—of a Hindu wife on her husband’s flaming pyre. I don’t want my wife to do that when my time comes—and with great respect, as I know her, she won’t . . .
I’m sorry, you misheard me; I said, “subtle”—that the message was too subtle.
Oh, subtle. How dull!
I would love to hear the audio of that.
To be honest, I’m not too high on Loving, but how can you not love Henry Green?
Full Paris Review interview here.