Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bernice Rubens on Elias Canetti

"It was during this time [in the 1950s, shortly after her marriage to Rudi Nassauer] that a Mr Elias Canetti came into our lives, and seemed to lodge there permanently. I disliked him from the start. I thought him a scrounger, but Rudi was much taken with him. Mr Canetti had written one novel, Auto Da Fé, which Rudi had read and was deeply impressed by. According to its author, so was the whole of Europe. Over the years I got to know this man and I realised he had but one single talent. That of self-promotion. He created mystery about himself. If you wanted to phone him, for instance, you had to let it ring twice. Then you had to put the phone down and ring again. Certain people could approach him, but only if they'd had a reliable recommendation. I thought it all rather pathetic. My father met him once and declared him evil. And as it turned out, he was right, though evil might have been an overstatement. He did not have the imagination to be evil. He was wicked rather, depraved, vicious and spiteful. His own life was dull and uneventful, and to compensate he would create intrigue in the lives of other people.

"My marital situation fascinated Canetti, and he curried favour with K [Rudi's mistress] in order to stir the pot. He moved around Hampstead couples and loners doling out destructive advice and waiting, with infinite pleasure, for the shit to hit the fan. He himself was married to a rather gentle victim, Vesa. He told me once how he envied me my children and what a sorrow it was for him that Vesa couldn't have any. Later I was to hear from Vesa herself that it was he who did not want any children and insisted on taking steps to prevent it. I hated that man. He was the only person in my life that I have ever hated. And I loved that hatred. It inspired me. It was almost a creative force. One day, I was driving up Haverstock Hill and Mr Canetti, deep in filthy thought, crossed the road in front of me. It was not a pedestrian crossing, and I could, quite legally, have killed him on the spot. "He came out of nowhere, m'Lud. It was impossible to pull up." But I refrained. I needed him around so that I could go on hating him. About 30 years later, he left England and went to live in Zurich. Nobody regretted his departure. As he had so often predicted, and had no doubt promoted, he won the Nobel prize and eventually died of old age. I marvelled that a man of such perverse nature could die of natural causes."

Strong stuff.

1 comment:

Semafor said...

Ah, the consummate irony - a rightly despised evil hack producing a true masterpiece. So wrong it has to be relished.