“There are moments when faced with our lack of success, I wonder whether we are failures, proud but impotent. One thing reassures me as to our value: the boredom that afflicts us. It is the hall-mark of quality in modern men.” Edmund and Jules De Goncourt
Odd that for the nineteenth century, a period teeming with scientific progress, great art and literature, that the characteristic tone of many of the writers is one of exhaustion. The Goncourts clung to their boredom as a badge of breeding. If ennui were to be commemorated in a coat of arms you’d need a winged absinthe bottle and the sign of a pawn shop. The Goncourt brothers led lives totally opposed to principles of physical and spiritual hygiene. They smelled rotting meat in the bedroom and realized it was the smell of their own bodies.
The age of boredom surely is today when things really are in decline. There aren’t even any men of quality to bemoan the passing of time, they’re too busy on the internet or, perhaps like me, they type in google, watch the flashing cursor and realize they have nothing left to look up. In a world of knowledge there is nothing we want to know, surely a sign of ennui and information overkill. A little boy in the library told me he preferred to do his homework online because the books at Grey Gables are unreliable, the information is untrustworthy and who are these authors anyway.
Here at Grey Gables the boredom collects under windows by the glossy face-on displays of cookery books. The tatty carousel loaded with books about mental breakdown forces a yawn, even from the over-caffeinated. Each day I have to rouse the sleeping men and women, slumped in their vinyl chairs, heads thrown back, mouths hanging open, blasting out a furnace of snores. They come too with a jolt, a kick of the leg and a whispered obscenity. Usually indignant, ‘ I wasn’t sleeping… how dare you… I was having a think… I will take my sleeping elsewhere…’ I actually enjoy waking the sleepers. Part of the sadism and heart-hardening of working with the general public and their predictable and (yawn) boring excuses. But one woman didn’t fit. Attractive, well-dressed with shiny black boots she was thrown diagonally across her chair by the notice board, deep in one of those heavy annihilating sleeps. I didn’t want to wake her. Was it because her boredom and dress denoted a different pedigree, a natural ruler? A descendant of illustrious ennui sufferers from the nineteenth century to the present day? When I did she smiled. ‘Young man, I think it’s time the library rethought its policy on sleeping. At home, one always sleeps in the library after lunch.’
I was put in my place. She waltzed out and I had a vision of a panelled room , a fire flickering and the gilt lettering tingling on spines of books bound in green Morocco. There were three generations asleep in armchairs next to each other, books open in their laps. It was only when I popped out for lunch in the public garden that I spotted those shiny boots, she had been felled by sleep suddenly and was snoring in the flower bed.